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"Two Strikes -- a Lady and Colored:" Gender, Race, and the Making of the Modern Medical Profession, 1864-1941

  • Author(s): Vigil-Fowler, Margaret
  • Advisor(s): Medeiros, Aimee
  • Porter, Dorothy
  • et al.
Abstract

Through an exploration of African American women physicians’ role in medicine, an alternative interpretation of medicine’s professionalization “grand narrative” emerges. The height of medicine’s period as “autonomous” coincides with creating a more exclusionary profession that nearly eliminated black women’s already limited opportunities to become licensed physicians and practice at all. Making American medicine the “modern” field that professionalized in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries meant excluding African American women and linking medicine’s growing prestige and cultural authority to white masculinity. The profession barred black women from many of the most elite schools, internships, jobs, and organizations. Because medicine became so thoroughly associated with whiteness and masculinity, the profession and even most historians of medicine overlooked the fact that roughly 130 black women became physicians between the Civil War and the start of World War II. By placing African American women physicians as central agents in the narrative of medicine’s professionalization, “centering in the margins,” this dissertation reveals the extent to which medicine and white masculinity became bound together. Yet, even as the profession excluded black women, they continued to find significant ways to contribute to improving health in their communities and the alternative clinical spaces of their own making, especially through public health, and strove to ameliorate the “health disparities” they recognized in African Americans from the nineteenth century into the mid-twentieth.

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