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52 Nurse Profiles with Maria SmiliosMy Nurse InfluencersYear of the Nurse and the Midwife

#3 of 52 nurse profiles: Salaria Kea

By: Robin Cogan, MEd, RN, NCSN, and Maria Smilios

In celebration of 2020 The Year of the Nurse and Midwife, author Maria Smilios is dedicating a weekly column about nurses whose stories must be shared.  I am thankful that Maria has invited The Relentless School Nurse to share this important initiative with our readers!

This is week #3 of the 52 week series in this year long study of nurses and midwives. Salaria Kea is this week’s featured nurse.

The story points to a road in Zaragoza, Spain, a city deep in the northeast region of the country. It was 1937, and Salaria Kea, a 20 year old Black nurse had become separated from her unit. Bathed in the tender light of early morning, she had stopped for a moment to re-orient herself. But, it would hopeless. The empty road seemed infinite; in both directions, it wound its way through a valley, quaint and picturesque. Choosing a direction, she began walking, taking in the peace that dropped from her surroundings. The lush vale and the sun and shifting light were a reprieve from the unending terrors of a civil war that brought her young soldiers with their arms and legs and faces blown off. It was a miracle how some survived.

But, as her thoughts drifted, the silence was rent by the roar of a motor and the screeching of brakes.[i] Then things happened fast: Two soldiers. Shouting. In German. They were, as she recalled “the first German soldiers I had seen, real soldiers, with armbands and insignias on their caps.” Nazis.

She ran through the field toward the valley drenched in sunlight, but she stumbled, falling face first into the earth. Then the hands, and the rifle, and their voices. Bellowing.

In the locked room, somewhere in Spain, time inched on; during the day, they left her alone, but at night, the Nazi’s took her to upstairs where she could see the courtyard. Outside she heard women and children praying before the guns resounded across the countryside. Then silence. In her memoirs, Salaria recalled how all day, her mind raced between thoughts of being executed and recollections of how she had arrived in that room.

Born in Millegeville, GA on July 13, 1913, Salaria’s life began with tragedy. At six months old, her father was killed by a patient at the Ohio State Hospital where he worked. Widowed with no savings, her mother took her four young children and moved to Akron, Ohio where she lived with family.

But two years later, she returned to Georgia and married a farmer, leaving her kids behind—Salaria’s older brothers took on the role of father-figures, supporting her financially and emotionally. Despite the early trauma of abandonment, Salaria thrived. She was bright and quick and excelled in athletics. Navigating a landscape of racial inequities had also imbued her with a fierce sense of justice, of wanting to set things right. Her first opportunity came in High School.

[i] This story comes from Kea’s memoirs, and she’s written differing accounts about this particular incident. In one, she is walking on the road, and in another, she is standing on the side of a hill. My choice was purely editorial. It should also be noted, that recent scholarship suggests that Kea embellished the story.

Works Consulted:



*All images: Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives

To read the entire profile on Salaria, please go here, and stay tuned for next week’s profile on Emma Elizabeth Weaver: Memories of a WWI Field Nurse. To read past profiles, please visit our My Nurse Influencer page.


Robin Cogan, MEd, RN, NCSN is a Nationally Certified School Nurse (NCSN), currently in her 19th year as a New Jersey school nurse in the Camden City School District. She serves on several national boards including The American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFIRM), a gun violence prevention research non-profit organization and the National Board of Certification for School Nurses (NBCSN). Robin is the Legislative Chair for the New Jersey State School Nurses Association (NJSSNA). She is proud to be a Johnson & Johnson School Health Leadership Fellow and past Program Mentor.

She has been recognized in her home state of New Jersey and nationally for her community-based initiative called “The Community Café: A Conversation That Matters.” Robin is the honored recipient of multiple awards for her work in school nursing and population health. These awards include 2019 National Association of School Nurses (NASN) President’s Award; 2018 NCSN School Nurse of the Year; 2017 Johnson & Johnson School Nurse of the Year; and the New Jersey Department of Health 2017 Population Health Hero Award. Robin serves as faculty in the School Nurse Certificate Program at Rutgers University-Camden School of Nursing, where she teaches the next generation of school nurses. She was presented the 2018 Rutgers University – Camden Chancellor’s Teaching Excellence Award for Part-time Faculty.

Robin writes a weekly blog called The Relentless School Nurse. You can also follow her on Twitter at @RobinCogan.

The views and opinions expressed by My Nurse Influencer contributors are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or recommendations of the American Nurses Association, the Editorial Advisory Board members, or the Publisher, Editors and staff of American Nurse Journal. These are opinion pieces and are not peer reviewed.

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