Celebrating America's Women Physicians

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Setting Their Sights
Making Their Mark
Changing Medicine
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Challenging Racial Barriers

The first women of color who gained access to medical school confronted financial hardships, discrimination against women, and racism. For generations, their families had been enslaved or oppressed. They had been denied the means of making a living and access to decent medical care. Even to begin training, these women often had to work their way through medical school or seek funding from supporters of women's and minorities' rights.

Once they became doctors, women of color often played an important role in bringing better standards of care to their own communities and served as role models for all women.

Full face photograph of Dr. Matilda Arabella Evans wearing glasses.
Dr. Matilda Arabella Evans

Matilda Arabella Evans, who graduated from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP) in 1897, was the first African American woman licensed to practice medicine in South Carolina. Evans's survey of black school children's health in Columbia, South Carolina, served as the basis for a permanent examination program within the South Carolina public school system. She also founded the Columbia Clinic Association, which provided health services and health education to families. She extended the program when she established the Negro Health Association of South Carolina, to educate families throughout the state on proper health care procedures. READ MORE

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler

Rebecca Lee Crumpler challenged the prejudice that prevented African Americans from pursuing careers in medicine to became the first African American woman in the United States to earn an M.D. degree, a distinction formerly credited to Rebecca Cole. Although little has survived to tell the story of Crumpler's life, she has secured her place in the historical record with her book of medical advice for women and children, published in 1883. READ MORE

Full face photograph of Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte
Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte

Susan La Flesche Picotte was first person to receive federal aid for professional education, and the first American Indian woman in the United States to receive a medical degree. In her remarkable career she served more than 1,300 people over 450 square miles, giving financial advice and resolving family disputes as well as providing medical care at all hours of the day and night. READ MORE

Video: Dr. Rebecca J. Cole Transcript: Dr. Rebecca J. Cole
Dr. Rebecca J. Cole

In 1867, Rebecca J. Cole became the second African American woman to receive an M.D. degree in the United States (Rebecca Crumpler, M.D., graduated from the New England Female Medical College three years earlier, in 1864). Dr. Cole was able to overcome racial and gender barriers to medical education by training in all-female institutions run by women who had been part of the first generation of female physicians graduating mid-century. Dr. Cole graduated from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1867, under the supervision of Ann Preston, the first woman dean of the school, and went to work at Elizabeth Blackwell's New York Infirmary for Women and Children to gain clinical experience. READ MORE

Right side face illustration of Dr. Rebecca J. Cole
Full face photograph of Dr. Helen Octavia Dickens
Dr. Helen Octavia Dickens
Video: Dr. Helen Octavia Dickens Transcript: Dr. Helen Octavia Dickens

In 1950, Dr. Helen Dickens was the first African American woman admitted to the American College of Surgeons. The daughter of a former slave, she would sit at the front of the class in medical school so that she would not be bothered by the racist comments and gestures made by her classmates. By 1969 she was associate dean in the Office for Minority Affairs at the University of Pennsylvania, and within five years had increased minority enrollment from three students to sixty-four. READ MORE

Video: Dr. Eliza Ann Grier Transcript: Dr. Eliza Ann Grier
Dr. Eliza Ann Grier

Eliza Ann Grier was an emancipated slave who faced racial discrimination and financial hardship while pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor. To pay for her medical education, she alternated every year of her studies with a year of picking cotton. It took her seven years to graduate. In 1898 she became the first African American woman licensed to practice medicine in the state of Georgia, and although she was plagued with financial difficulties throughout her education and her career, she fought tenaciously for her right to earn a living as a woman doctor. READ MORE

Full face photograph of Dr. Eliza Ann Grier