Overcome. Dr. Hilda Richards, chancellor emerita and professor emerita of Indiana University Northwest, did not let the racist, segregated Midwest of the ’50s deter her from getting an education.
An excellent student, Richards applied to the St. John’s School of Nursing in St. Louis but was told by the Mother Superior that she would be allowed to attend the school only if she pretended to be Mexican. Richards refused and applied at the sister school in Springfield, Missouri, where she was accepted. By her second year, Richards was at the top of her class, but she wanted to leave because of the racist environment. She was ultimately allowed to finish her course work on the St. Louis campus, her original choice, and in 1956 became the first black graduate.
Richards continued to set high standards for herself, moving to New York City where she became head nurse of the adolescent psychiatric unit at City Hospital. She received her bachelor’s degree from Hunter College and her master’s and doctorate degrees from Columbia University, as well as a master of public administration degree from New York University.
Richards was appointed as chancellor of IU Northwest in 1993 and retired in 2001. Before that, she was provost and vice president for academic affairs at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and dean of the College of Health and Human Services at Ohio University—the first black academic dean as well as the first female. Since her retirement, she has stayed active with the Gary Education Development Foundation and the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, as well as working in hospice care. She is a lifetime member and former president of the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA), an organization representing 150,000 nurses across the country. In 2005, she received an honorary doctorate from Medgar Evers College, City University of New York, where she served as associate dean of academic affairs. She helped establish the college in 1971. Among her many awards are a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Black Nursing Faculty in 1996 and 100 Most Influential Black Americans, Ebony magazine, 1999-2003.