Doctor or Doctress?

Explore American history through the eyes of women physicians

A letter from Mae Myers to Howard Reifsnyder regarding a WMCP student, Virginia Alexander.

Get the story...

“She Has Undertaken a Herculean Task”: Early African American Women Physicians

Although the Emancipation Proclamation freed all Confederate slaves in 1863, the following decades were rife with racism and racial inequality.  A set of formal and informal social and legal policies throughout the Southern United States called the “Jim Crow” laws enforced racial segregation and continued to deny African Americans their full rights as American citizens.  Jim Crow segregation also applied to hospitals, medical care, and medical education.  Hospitals sometimes had separate wards for black patients, but often would not accept black patients at all, let alone employ black doctors and nurses.  It was especially hard for African-American women physicians, who struggled against both racial and gender discrimination.  Once they graduated, early African-American women doctors faced difficulties establishing their professional careers and gaining experience. At least into the 1920s, available hospital positions were limited to the few black-owned and operated hospitals around the country.

It was difficult for African-American women physicians to find internships, and WMCP tried to place all of the graduates with jobs.  However, not all jobs were close to Philadelphia or the hometowns of the women, and this made securing a position after graduation more challenging.

Creator: Myers, Mae L.

Contributor: Reifsnyder, Howard

Language: english

Item Number: a266_016

Pages: 1

Size: 21.5X28

Physical Collection: Records of W/MCP: Registrar 1921-1975 (ACC-266), ACC-266

Finding Aid:

Link to OPAC Record:

Cite this source: Title of document, date. Early African-American Woman Physicians: She has undertaken a Herculean task. Doctor or Doctress?: Explore American history through the eyes of women physicians. The Legacy Center, Drexel University College of Medicine Archives & Special Collections. Philadelphia, PA. Date of access.

Alexander, Virginia Margaret, 1900-1949

Douglas Hospital (Philadelphia, Pa.)

Pennsylvania Hospital (Philadelphia, Pa)

African American medical students

African American women physicians

Interns (Medicine)

Philadelphia (Pa.)