African American Milestones in Public Health and Medicine at Yale
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Cortlandt Van Rensselaer Creed, MD 1857, the first African American graduate of Yale Medical School, was the first person of African descent to receive a degree in any discipline from Yale. Only a very small number of African Americans had previously received medical degrees from U.S. institutions before Dr. Creed, and none from the Ivy schools.
His Yale MD thesis was entitled “On the Blood” – a discourse on the physiology and chemistry of blood and circulation. Despite what Dr. Creed described in one of his letters to Douglas as a prevailing national sentiment of “prejudice against color,” he reported, “I never experienced any other than the most polite treatment from my fellow class-mates.”
Dr. Creed remained in New Haven after graduation from Yale and developed a large, successful, ethnically-mixed medical practice. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he wrote to Connecticut Governor Buckingham requesting a commission to serve, but was refused because of his race. In 1863, President Lincoln authorized the recruitment of African American troops and the Connecticut governor issued a call to arms to men of color. Creed wrote, “On every side we behold colored sons rallying to the sound of Liberty and Union.” He was appointed 1st Lieutenant and Surgeon of the 31st Regiment U.S. Colored Troops 1864 (30th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment) and served until the end of the Civil War.
Dr. Creed married Drucilla Wright with whom he had four sons. After her death, he married Mary Paul of Brooklyn, New York with whom he had six children. He briefly practiced in New York but returned to New Haven for the rest of his career. Cited frequently in the local news and The New York Times for his medical and forensic skills, he was consulted for a surgical opinion at the time of President Garfield’s assassination.
Dr. Creed died from “Bright’s disease” on August 8th, 1900 and was buried in the family plot in Grove Street Cemetery.
Henry Gamble was born of slave parents in Virginia in 1862. As a youth, he was employed as a houseboy by a professor of medicine at the University of Virginia during which time he began educating himself. In the fall of 1882, he entered Lincoln University and graduated with honors. He was the fourth African-American to matriculate in medicine at Yale. He worked nights as a janitor in order to pay his tuition, room and board. He graduated in 1891 with honors. His thesis was entitled “The Control of Epidemics.” Dr. Gamble quickly gained a reputation for his exceptional ability as a surgeon and published scientific articles on topics such as thoracic aneurysms and caesarean section.
Since African-Americans were not allowed in the state medical society, Dr. Gamble helped organize the West Virginia State Medical Association, an African-American organization. He joined the National Medical Association where he served as Chairman of the Executive Board, and helped write its constitution. In 1912, Dr. Gamble was elected president of the National Medical Association.
William Penn, born in Virginia in 1871, was a descendent of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania and brother to Professor I. Garland Penn, a founder of the National Medical Association.
Upon graduation from Yale, Penn began a distinguished medical career. Two years after graduation, he married Lulu Tompkins Wright and moved to Atlanta, GA. He later became vice-president of the Georgia State National Medical Association. Around 1926 Dr. Penn moved to Tuskegee, AL, to become chief of surgery of the Veterans Administration Hospital. He died on May 31, 1934, of chronic myocarditis.
- Born in Philadelphia in 1899, Virginia Alexander was only four years old when her mother died, and at age thirteen, her father lost his once flourishing livery stable. Virginia eventually won a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania and to pay for her living expenses, she worked as a maid, a clerk and a waitress. Alexander ranked 2nd highest among medical aptitude test examinees after her entry into the Woman's Medical College of PA. African American physicians were discriminated against in many medical institutions, and no Philadelphia hospital would accept Alexander for practical training. She moved to Kansas City for her internship and within a few years, she was back in Philadelphia, running her own community health clinic and serving on the faculty of the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania. The Aspiranto Health Home was founded in her own home to serve Philadelphia's poor.
In 1941, Dr. Alexander earned her MPH at Yale and accepted a position at Howard University, where she was appointed physician-in-charge of women students. She also ran a private health practice and worked for the US Department of Health. When World War II broke out, physicians from across the country were dispatched to military bases to care for the injured, leaving many groups at home desperate for medical care. Alexander volunteered for the government and was sent to the coal fields of Alabama to treat miners living in extreme poverty. She died at the age of 49 from Lupus.
Dr. Ruth J. Temple was a community health crusader and the first African-American female graduate of Loma Linda University. Her many accomplishments and medical interests include the foundation of a health study club to educate the community on nutrition, sex education, immunization and substance abuse. Pushing the barriers placed on African-American women of the time, Dr. Temple committed herself to community health issues in the city of Los Angeles. Dr. Temple graduated from the College of Medical Evangelists (Loma Linda University) with her MD in 1918. When she began her career, there was not a single medical clinic in East Los Angeles. She and her husband, Otis Lawrence Banks, purchased a six room house on Central Avenue and turned it into a free health clinic, later naming it the Temple Health Institute. Overcoming the prejudices of the time, Dr. Temple was on the faculty of White Memorial Hospital teaching white medical students. In 1941, the Los Angeles City Health department gave Temple a scholarship to attend Yale University for a Master’s in public health. She went on to pioneer the city's public health program and helped to establish the Southeast District Health Center. She was appointed the first health officer of Los Angeles City in 1942 and was recognized as an authority in the field of obstetrics.
In 1983, the East Los Angeles Health Center was renamed the Dr. Ruth Temple Health Center. Dr. Temple died in 1984 at the age of 91.
Claudewell Thomas is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine at UCLA and is acknowledged by that Department to be the first African-American emeritus Professor of Psychiatry appointed at UCLA (1993). He is a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry & Neurology (and a past examiner for the Board) and Fellow of the A.K. Rice Institute. He was Chairman and Professor of Psychiatry at Drew Medical School in Los Angeles, Vice Chairman of Psychiatry at UCLA, Professor and Chair of Psychiatry at UMDN-New Jersey Medical School, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Public Health and Sociology at Yale, and an Adjunct Professor at The Union Institute and University of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Dr. Thomas served as Director of the Division of Mental Health Service Programs at the National Institute of Mental Health, and as a reserve medical officer of the 514th Tactical Wing, Mitchell Field, Mineola, New York. He was also an active duty base psychiatrist at the 6022nd USAF Hospital PACAF in Irumgawa, Japan. Somewhat unusually he was the Medical Director at Tokanui Psychiatric Hospital in Hamilton, New Zealand in 1996. He was a member of the Los Angeles Superior Court Panel of Psychiatrists and Psychologists and a psychiatric consultant for Los Angeles County. He is the author and editor of three books and over fifty academic journal articles. His last book, co-authored with Dr. Brenda Fellows and published in 2010 is titled Your Personal Power Up and has been particularly well received by women and minorities. He is now actively engaged in helping Dr. Jeffrey Thomas construct a San Francisco based Stroke Shield Foundation and continues to work with the San Francisco based Bay Area Foundation for Human Resources.
Cornell Scott, MPH '68, was Chief Executive Officer of the Hill Health Center, one of the nation’s first community health centers and the first community health center established in the State of Connecticut, providing services to low income and underserved individuals and families living in the greater New Haven area. During his 33 years with Hill, the center grew significantly--operating 17 sites in four cities with over 20,000 patients, among the poorest in the state and the nation. Founded in partnership with Yale University Medical School, Hill under Mr. Scott’s leadership, made great strides in reducing infant mortality and effectively dealing with chronic diseases in the areas of hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, lead based poisoning and sickle cell screening and treatment. In addition to primary care specialties and dental care, Hill provides homeless outreach, mental and behavioral health care, HIV/AIDS education and treatment, school-based health programs, a 25-bed alcohol and drug detoxification center, and a child and family guidance clinic.
Thomas W. Chapman, MPH '71, is President and CEO of The HSC Foundation - a nonprofit integrated health care organization. He previously served as Senior Vice President for Network Development and CEO of the George Washington University Hospital, President of the Greater Southeast Healthcare System, Senior Consultant in Health Care Planning and Management, Arthur D. Little, Inc., Assistant Executive Director, Group Health Association and President, Provident Hospital, Inc.
He serves on a variety of corporate boards, including Kaiser Permanente; Consumer Health Foundation and the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality. Dr. Chapman also serves as a consultant to varied organizations, such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pan American Health Organization. He is a professor/lecturer at such universities as George Washington, Harvard, Howard, Georgetown, and Johns Hopkins. Dr. Chapman earned his Doctor of Education from the George Washington University and his Master of Public Health from Yale University, School of Public Health in 1971.
Major General Trowell-Harris, MPH '73, Ph.D., is the highest ranking African American woman in the National Guard. Dr. Trowell-Harris was the first woman in the 354 year history of the National Guard to command a medical clinic; the first African American woman in its history to become a general officer; the first person to have both a Tuskegee Airmen Chapter and Mentoring Award named in her honor. Among her numerous civilian and military honors is the Legion of Merit Award, one of the nation’s top military awards. She was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by the Medical University of South Carolina and their highest award, the Order of the Palmetto.
Dr. Trowell-Harris knew what she wanted to do from a very young age. While working on her parent’s farm with her 10 brothers and sisters in Ohio, she watched planes as they passed overhead and dreamed that someday she would fly for a living. Her mother, however, wanted her to be a nurse. She earned a nursing diploma from the Columbia Hospital School of Nursing. Her dream of flying would not die and in 1963, she was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Air National Guard. She advanced quickly in the ranks, earning promotion to flight nurse instructor in 1966 and then to chief nurse. The Air National Guard allowed for a perfect combination of her love for airplanes and her commitment to nursing. In 1986, she was appointed commander of the 105th USAF Clinic in NY, making her the first Air National Guard nurse to command a medical clinic. She was appointed director of the Center for Women Veterans in October 2001.
Donald Moore, MD has a private practice in Brooklyn, New York. He focuses his clinical activities on diabetes, AIDS, asthma and hypertension. He is a faculty member at Cornell University and even in the age of acute-care hospitals, he provides house calls.
Hospitals horrified Dr. Moore beginning the day he visited his dying father. His police officer father was in end-stage renal failure, the result of uncontrolled hypertension. He remembers leaving the ward crying and realizing, for the first time, that his father was dying. He thought he’d never go back into a hospital. Later, as a student at Pace University in Manhattan, he majored in sociology. When he excelled in an obligatory math and science course, his professor suggested that he consider medicine. Despite his earlier reservations about the medical field, Dr. Moore enrolled at Yale and graduated with joint degrees in Medicine and Public Health.
When Dr. Moore assumed the presidency of the Association of Yale Alumni in Medicine (AYAM) his overarching mission was to engage younger alumni and more effectively capture the ethnically diverse alumni body. One of his goals as President was to foster discussion of how managed care has harmed the doctor-patient relationship. He said a capitated plan, which pays a doctor to take care of a group with a flat per-patient payment, militates against what a physician is supposed to do: care for sick people. Instead, he said, it encourages the doctor to seek healthy patients and see them as little as possible.
After receiving his MPH in 1992, Mr. Nelson was asked to take over the operational reins of Hudson Health Plan – a Medicaid Managed Care company in New York. As Executive VP & COO, he has played an invaluable role in enabling the plan to grow from fewer than 1,000 members when he started, to 75,000 members today.
While a student at YSPH he organized the African-American Alumni Network at Yale, which hosted numerous networking receptions for students of color. Nelson remains active in the YSPH community. Nelson serves on the YSPH Diversity Committee, the YSPH Alumni Advisory Board, and the board of directors for the Association of Yale Alumni in Public Health (AYAPH).
In 2000, he was named chair of the Minority Affairs Committee of AYAPH. Recognizing the evolving cultural climate of the country, he renamed the group the “Emerging Majority Affairs Committee.” From its inception, the mission EMAC has been to ensure that the interests of the emerging majority are considered in all matters concerning YSPH. In June 2007, Nelson was elected Vice President of the AYAPH Board, and in July 2007, he was elected to the Board of Governors of the Association of Yale Alumni.
A 44-year-old mother of five and grandmother who once thought admissions officers would simply laugh at her application to medical school, was the first grandmother ever to graduate from the Yale School of Medicine. Dr. Morris first thought about becoming a doctor when she saw doctors taking care of her ill grandmother. However, her plans for a medical career were put on hold when she became pregnant at 16. She was meant to be the first one in her family to go to college and felt as though she had let her family down. Dr. Morris managed to stay in high school and earn her diploma. By age 29, she had five children. She still wanted to go to college, but her husband at the time did not support that dream. She studied cosmetology instead, and ran a beauty shop out of their home. Each fall, she proposed starting college, and each fall she felt pressured to wait—until the children were older, until finances were less strained. After about nine years, Dr. Morris quietly enrolled at a community college. While working full time as a secretary, Dr. Morris would do homework alongside her children, surviving on four hours of sleep. She completed her Associate’s degree summa cum laude in 1996 and enrolled at nearby York College to work toward her Bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Finding jobs first at a state psychiatric hospital and then at a prison with 3,000 male inmates, Morris enjoyed nursing, but craved more responsibility. She began taking the prerequisites for medical school. Her honors at Yale include: Medical School Banner Bearer for commencement exercises, the Community Service Award and the Cortlandt Van Rensselaer Creed Award for outstanding academic achievement, exemplary leadership and a significant commitment to the community at large.
Curtis Patton, PhD, Professor at YSPH retired after 36 years at Yale in 2006. Dr. Patton has been a prominent figure not only at YSPH but throughout the University. He has served in a variety of administrative capacities including Division Head, Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases and Acting Head of Global Health. In 2004, Dr. Patton was asked by President Levin to help re-establish and Chair the University Minority Affairs Committee (MAC). He has also served as the Director of International Medical Studies and Chair of the Committee on International Health.
Dr. Patton arrived at Yale in 1960 during a turbulent time. The Black Panthers were on trial in New Haven on the first day he arrived. There were few students of minority descent. Patton not only took a personal interest in the students, but took an interest in the Yale community. Yale's recognition of Edward A. Bouchet, Yale College's first African-American graduate, who was son of a slave, was one of Dr. Patton's most notable contributions to our community. Due in large part to Patton, Bouchet's picture now resides in Yale's bookstore. Patton will take his students there when they are going through a particularly difficult time. “I take them there,” he says, “not just black students, anyone. I point to his picture and say ‘Can you imagine what it was like for him. Don't you think there were times that he wanted to give up?'”
A scholarship, the Creed/Patton/Steele Fund was established partly in Dr. Patton's honor. It is the first endowed fund in support of underrepresented minority students at YSPH and was established to recognize the importance of diversity in graduate and professional education and to acknowledge the contributions of underrepresented minorities to the field of public health.
Dr. Curtis Patton has been a dedicated teacher, mentor and scholar for the Yale, New Haven and world communities. His commitment to our school, our university, and especially to our students is a standard to which everyone at YSPH should strive for. He has taught us about the importance of diversification and has been a demonstration of perseverance accomplishing dreams.