Doctor or Doctress?

Explore American history through the eyes of women physicians

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Letter to W.E.B. Du Bois from Clara Marshall, dean of WMCP, regarding a survey about African-American students.  Published with permission of David Graham Du Bois.

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“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.

Du Bois conducted numerous studies during the early twentieth century concerning the lives of African Americans.  This particular study focused on African-Americans and education, at a time when educational opportunities available to African-Americans were not equal to those available to whites.

Creator: Marshall, Clara

Contributor: Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963

Language: english

Item Number: a178_005

Pages: 2

Size: 23x26.9

Physical Collection: Papers of Black Women Physicians 1947-1985 (ACC-178), ACC-178

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.

Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania--Alumni and alumnae

African American women physicians

African American women--Education

Atlanta (Ga.)

Philadelphia (Pa.)