Eliza Farish Pillars was born on 26 April 1892 in Jackson. She attended public schools in Jackson and Utica Junior College before completing her education at the School of Nursing at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. After graduation she worked in several private physicians’ offices and owned and operated a small hospital. In 1926 she accepted a position with the Mississippi State Health Department, where she worked with Mary D. Osborne, who was developing a public-health-nurse-led educational program for midwives. Pillars became the state’s first black public health nurse.
Pillars educated five hundred granny midwives and held classes for laypeople in a variety of programs, including child hygiene and general health education. She made home visits to the midwives and their patients, organized midwives clubs, conducted well-child clinics, and taught many different types of caregivers how to adapt to the realities of health conditions in rural Mississippi. She played a pivotal role as a health educator and midwife trainer during a crucial period in the state’s history. When Pillars began her practice, death rates among mothers and babies in the state were among the highest in the nation, but those numbers fell during her twenty-five-year tenure at the health department, with the infant death rate dropping by more than half. She provided vision, leadership, and critical role modeling to midwives and mothers through the Great Depression and World War II.
Pillars retired in 1950, and the following year the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses presented her with its Mary Mahoney Award in recognition of her pioneering efforts in public health nursing. She continued to participate in nursing activities and service events until her death on 15 June 1970. A Mississippi organization for black nurses takes its name from this visionary leader.
- Public Health Nursing Papers, Mississippi Department of Archives and History
- Virginia Henderson International Nursing Library website, www.nursinglibrary.org
- Jeannette Waits, presentation on Eliza Farish Pillars, Historical Interest Group of the Mississippi Nurses Association (September 1994)