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First African American women graduates, faculty honored

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2011 - Spring


The School of Medicine paid tribute to the first African-American faculty and women graduates.

The night before the start of Reunion 2011, the School of Medicine honored its first African-American women graduates and its first African-American faculty. This recognition at a ceremony in the Historical Library, said Forrester A. Lee, M.D. ’79, associate dean for multicultural affairs, shows “how far we have come, how far they have come, and how far they have brought this institution, this very old institution, out of the darkness and into the light.”

Beatrix A. (McCleary) Hamburg, M.D. ’48, was the first African-American woman to graduate from the school. Yvette Fay (Francis) McBarnette, M.D. ’50, soon followed, then Doris L. (Wethers) Booker, M.D. ’52. Only Francis-McBarnette was able to attend the ceremony.

James P. Comer, M.D., M.P.H., the Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry in the Child Study Center, joined the Yale faculty in 1968. In 1972 he was the first African American to gain tenure at the School of Medicine. Claudewell S. Thomas, M.D., M.P.H., ’62, joined the faculty in 1965 as assistant professor of psychiatry, public health, and sociology.

Hamburg became a psychiatrist and is known for her studies of the health and mental health of minorities; studies of early adolescence and diabetic children; and her creation of school-based peer counseling programs that have been adopted around the world. McBarnette devoted her career to clinical practice and was a pioneer in the treatment of sickle cell disease. When her pediatric sickle cell patients entered adulthood, she trained in adult internal medicine so she could continue to treat them.

Booker graduated from medical school and took a residency at Gallinger Municipal Hospital in Washington, D.C., where she was the only African-American female on the house staff. She worked with McBarnette on sickle cell disease and with her co-founded the Sickle Cell Foundation for Research and Education.

Comer is best known for the Comer School Development Program, which promotes the collaboration of parents, educators, and community to improve social, emotional and academic outcomes for children and help them achieve greater school success.

Thomas, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, left Yale in 1973 and served as chair of psychiatry at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, chair of psychiatry at Drew Medical School in Los Angeles, and chief of psychiatric services for Martin Luther King General Hospital in Los Angeles.

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