7 Black Women Who Made Medical History

7 Black Women Who Made Medical History


7 Black Women Who Made Medical History

African-American women have been practicing medicine informally for centuries, including midwives and herbalism. Those who have pursued formal training and received recognition for their work have made significant contributions to the growth of our nation's healthcare system.

These 7 Black Women Who Made Medical History are inspirational examples of how hard work and perseverance can lead to great success. Their stories encourage us to follow in their footsteps and fight for equal access to healthcare services.

1. Rebecca Lee Crumpler

In 1864, Rebecca Lee Crumpler achieved historic recognition as the first Black woman to earn a medical degree in America. She earned her degree from New England Female Medical College in Boston, Massachusetts.

She began as a nurse, and it was her skills that attracted doctors to recommend her for medical school. Additionally, she was able to receive tuition assistance from the Wade Scholarship Fund established by abolitionist Benjamin Wade.

Unfortunately, she experienced intense prejudice and hostility as a Black female doctor. She had difficulty filling prescriptions and was told her brain was smaller than those of her male colleagues, leading her to believe her brain was inferior.

Despite these obstacles, she persevered and worked towards making her dream a reality. After the Civil War she joined the Freedmen's Bureau in Richmond, Virginia to provide care for formerly enslaved people.

After graduating, she returned to Boston and continued her work. She treated patients in her home on Joy Street - then a predominantly Black neighborhood - while providing medical services to poor Black women and children who couldn't afford private coverage for their care.

Her life's mission was to promote the health of Black women and children, making her a pioneer for female physicians. Through her dedication and determination, she earned a place of honor in medicine's history.

2. Hazel Johnson-Brown

Hazel Johnson-Brown was an iconic nurse, educator and Army leader who made medical history. She overcame racial discrimination to become the first Black general and Chief of Nurse Corps in 1979.

Hazel Johnson-Brown, born into a close-knit farming family of nine in West Chester, Pennsylvania and raised with discipline, diligence, unity and education as core family values, set out at 12 years old to become a nurse. After being denied acceptance at West Chester School of Nursing due to her race, Hazel became determined to fulfill her lifelong ambition.

After earning her degree in nursing from Villanova University, she enlisted in the Army and worked on a female medical-surgical ward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and an obstetric unit at 8169th Hospital in Camp Zama, Japan. Furthermore, she helped evaluate an Army "MUST" hospital (Mobile Unit Self-contained, Transportable) that was being deployed to Vietnam.

After her military service, she pursued further education and earned a bachelor's degree in nursing from Villanova, master's from Columbia University Teachers College and doctorate in educational administration from Catholic University. Additionally, she founded the Center for Health Policy Research and Ethics at George Mason University in Virginia before retiring from active duty in 1983. As an influential teacher and advocate for healthcare policy issues ever since, she remains influential today.

3. Louise Augusta Moore

Louise Augusta Moore (born October 27, 1812 in Green Cove Springs, Florida) was an acclaimed sculptor and one of the earliest African American women artists. She played a significant role in the Harlem Renaissance arts and culture movement.

She created figures out of clay and taught modeling classes. Additionally, she worked at a local county fair, making money by selling animal figures. A tireless advocate for blacks in the arts, she is widely considered as an early pioneer of African-American feminism.

In her later years, she moved to New York and lived with her daughter Irene. She was an active participant in the dance community, enjoying a variety of activities like dancing, gardening, painting, sewing and crossword puzzles; additionally, she loved reading books and spending time playing with children.

She was a dear friend to many and will be greatly missed. Survived by her daughters Nancy Scribner of Jay, Sylvia Spinicci and husband Sam of Manchester, Betty Towle of Winthrop and Fred Maxim with wife Peg of East Dixfield; 11 grandchildren as well as numerous great-grand and great-greatgrandchildren; predeceased by both her husbands and sons and interred at Maine Veterans Cemetery in Augusta.

4. Helen O. Dickens

Helen Octavia Dickens was born in Dayton, Ohio to a father who was once a slave and mother who served the Reynolds family of paper manufacturers as a domestic servant. Growing up with aspirations of becoming a doctor, Dickens attended Crane Junior College after receiving her high school diploma.

After earning her undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois, she went on to graduate from medical school in 1934 - becoming the first Black woman to hold such a title in Illinois.

Dickens went on to practice obstetrics and gynecology in Philadelphia at Mercy Douglass Hospital, one of the city's few racially integrated hospitals. Additionally, she helped launch a cancer prevention center at Mercy Douglass and hired an African American cytologist to collect data on cervical cancer rates among Black women.

As associate dean for minority admissions, she successfully recruited more promising black and minority students to the university's medical school. Within five years, her efforts resulted in an increase in Black and minority medical students from three to 64.

Dickens was an esteemed leader in OB-GYN medicine. Her legacy includes her work to promote cancer education and advocate for women's health needs, as well as pioneering contributions to teen pregnancy prevention and sexual health issues within Black communities.

5. Peter Murray Marshall

In the early 19th century, Black physicians often experienced discrimination in their professional life. Nonetheless, some of these medical professionals managed to overcome these obstacles and become integral parts of the medical community.

Peter Murray Marshall, a renowned gynecologist and obstetrician, served as president of the National Medical Association from 1985-88.

Therefore, he was able to advocate for African American health care needs and equality within medicine. Though not recognized by the American Medical Association (AMA), the National Medical Association provided a vital platform for Black doctors and allowed them to advocate on their own behalf.

The National Medical Association evolved into the largest organization of Black physicians in America. Its members were dedicated to advancing racial equity within medicine.

Despite this commitment, Black physicians still experience discrimination in the medical field. Some are even forced to stop practicing due to discrimination or denied access to certain insurance companies. The National Medical Association has even proposed that AMA-recognized managed-care plans sign statements of compliance which formally forswear racially discriminatory practices.

6. Geraldine Pittman Woods

She was the first African American appointed to the National Advisory General Medical Services Council, an NIH advisory committee. Through her advocacy work, she advocated for increased science education and research opportunities at minority institutions.

She was instrumental in the launch of Head Start, a government program that provided poor children with equal educational opportunities as their more affluent counterparts.

Geraldine Pittman Woods, born on January 29th 1921 in West Palm Beach, Florida, achieved success as a neuroembryologist. However, she soon understood that her scientific talents could make more of an impact on society if she applied them towards aiding people of color.

Her passion for removing barriers and expanding career opportunities for people of color in STEM fields led her to advocate for increased funding for minority research institutions and science administrators throughout her life. Furthermore, she was recruited by Head Start - a government program that helped under-resourced children enter school on equal terms with more privileged peers - which helped underserved children achieve academic success.

She is a pioneering figure in medicine who made numerous groundbreaking contributions. She serves as an inspirational role model for Black women aspiring to careers in scientific fields. Her legacy continues to shape how we view health care and medicine in America today.

7. Patrice Harris

Harris was a teenager growing up in rural West Virginia when she first realized her ambition of becoming a doctor. Inspired by Robert Young's portrayal of a fictional small-town doctor on TV, she decided to pursue medicine as an adult.

But she was uncertain how to achieve it. Her family had no role models who had gone on to medical school, and women of color weren't encouraged to become doctors in her community.

Harris' interest in pediatrics was aroused after watching a television show about a doctor who treated children and believed in the power of education. This inspired Harris to pursue work in child and adolescent psychiatry.

She obtained her undergraduate degree in psychology, master's in counseling psychology and medical degree from West Virginia University. Nowadays she practices psychiatry out of Atlanta.

In June, Harris was inaugurated as the 174th president of the American Medical Association - America's largest professional association for physicians. As a physician from Appalachia, her unique perspective brings to the job and she hopes that her expertise can improve healthcare services for both patients and physicians alike.

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