Hulda Margaret Lyttle, R.n.
Hulda Margaret Lyttle, was born in 1889 in Nashville, Tennessee to David and Rebecca
Lyttle. Rebecca Lyttle worked for Dr. Smiley Blanton, a practicing Nashville physician,
caring for his sick stepmother. Because of the superior health care Rebecca Lyttle
gave Dr. Blanton’s stepmother, he told her he would make sure, through his help, that
Hulda would be able to pursue her dream of a nursing career.
After receiving her primary education, Lyttle entered the first class of George W. Hubbard Hospital's Training School for Nurses—later known as the School of Nursing at Meharry Medical College—in September, 1910. She soon gained recognition as a superb scholar, one who rendered quality care to her patients. Lyttle became so proficient in operating room techniques that attending physicians were known to specifically request her assistance in their operations. A person of compassion, Lyttle preferred assignments which enabled her to work with the less fortunate and the charity patients. She believed "they needed the most and best attention available."
In 1913, Lyttle, along with Rhonda A. Pugh and Lula Woolfolk, became the school's first graduates. Dr. Blanton soon made good on his promise. So she could continue her studies, he recommended Lyttle to the superintendent of nurses at New York's Lincoln Hospital School of Nursing, one of the few schools in New York City that accepted African Americans.
Lyttle was admitted to Lincoln Hospital School of Nursing where she successfully increased her clinical knowledge and experience and, in 1914, she received her six-month certificate. After completing her studies at Lincoln Hospital School of Nursing, Lyttle was asked by Chairman Hunt, her former teacher and Hubbard’s superintendent of nurses, to substitute for her at Southern University's School of Nursing. In 1915, after her work at Southern University ended, Lyttle returned to Nashville and passed the state nursing examination required for licensing.
Her professional and academic proficiency earned her recommendations from George W. Hubbard, president of Meharry Medical College, for the position of head nurse at Hubbard Hospital. She was soon became director of the School of Nursing and in 1923, she was appointed superintendent of Hubbard Hospital.
In an eight year period, Lyttle ascended the administrative ladders of Meharry Medical College and Hubbard Hospital. Given the fact that both the medical school and the hospital were under the leadership of white executives who, for the most part, had patriarchal attitudes toward black education and were generally adhering to the governing racist and sexist ideas of the era, this was a significant accomplishment.
In 1931, Meharry Medical College and Hubbard Hospital moved from South Nashville to a new six acre site in North Nashville. Located across the street from Fisk University, the new facility consisted of three buildings, including a dormitory for student nurses.
In 1938 Meharry officially changed the name of its nursing education program from Training School for Nurses to School of Nursing. Applicants were required to have at least one year of college work. Because of Lyttle's accomplishments as a nursing educator and school and hospital administrator, she was named dean of the School of Nursing.
In August 1938, the New York Board of Regents informed Meharry officials that its School of Nursing was accredited by the State University of New York. The changes in the nursing course resulted in an increase in the number of students who passed the comprehensive nursing examination administered by the State Board of Nurse Examiners.
A proponent of continuing education for nurses, Lyttle set an example for both her student nurses and the nursing faculty. In 1938 she received a bachelor of science degree from Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State College—now known as Tennessee State University—and in 1939 she received a fellowship from the General Education Board of the Rockefeller Foundation to study nursing school organization and administration at the University of Toronto School of Nursing completing the course in 1940.
Lyttle was an active participant in professional nursing organizations. In 1929, during the twenty-second annual convention of the National Association for Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN), held in New York, Lyttle addressed the convention's hospital session. In 1936, she was elected first vice president of the NACGN and in 1939 she was elected president of the NACGN's southern region.
Lyttle retired in 1943 after giving almost thirty years of dedicated service to Meharry Medical College and Hubbard Hospital. In an issue of the Meharrian yearbook, her students noted that, "Because of [Lyttle’s] indomitable will and constant blazing of paths in the nursing profession, she has made this one of the most outstanding schools for Negroes."
In 1948 Lyttle accepted a position with the University of California as administrator of the School Health Programs. Later, she took the position of superintendent of the National Baptist Bath House Hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas. There she met S. M. Frazier whom she married in May 1954. Soon after their marriage, they moved to Miami. In 1958 she received a vocational certificate from Florida's State Department of Education and in 1959 she took extension courses at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. In addition to holding a teaching certificate from the state of Tennessee, Lyttle received a teaching certificate from the state of Florida in 1961.
Lyttle was considered one of the most outstanding graduates of Meharry Medical College's School of Nursing. Three years after her retirement, on June 23, 1946, the student nurses' residence was named Hulda Margaret Lyttle Hall. In September of 1960, the Meharry board of trustees voted to close the nursing school due to the mounting debt and the loss of its senior nurses. When Lyttle became aware of the board’s actions, she mounted an aggressive fund raising campaign to secure a plaque listing all of the names of Meharry’s School of Nursing graduates. Successful in her efforts, a commemorative bronze plaque was placed in the lobby of Hubbard Hospital.
Lyttle was a member of the Miami Chapter of Links, Incorporated, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and the Church of the Open Door. Perhaps because of her lifelong career as a nurse and educator, Lyttle was always aware of human mortality.
On Sunday, August 7, 1983, Hulda Margaret Lyttle died at Cedars of Lebanon Medical Center in Miami. She was 94-years-old. Her funeral was held on August 10, 1983 at the Church of the Open Door and she was interred in Lincoln Memorial Park in Miami. According to her obituary, "She planned her Home Going while in the prime of her life and made her complete funeral arrangements."
In The Commemorative Journal of Meharry Nursing it was stated that Lyttle was "never too busy or too tired to hear the problems of nurses, or to give them advice from her rich store of experience." She is remembered for her lasting contribution to the African-American community as a nursing educator, a hospital and school administrator and a counselor to her students.