In 1948, Beatrix McCleary Hamburg made history when she was the first Black woman to graduate from Yale School of Medicine. At the time, she was also the first Black medical student to be admitted to Yale in 37 years.
Hamburg’s accomplishments were recognized at the unveiling of her oil portrait on June 3 at the Medical Historical Library in the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library.
“What she overcame in barriers is remarkable when you consider her extraordinary career as an internationally renowned researcher, advocate, and policy maker around adolescent psychiatry, mental health, and violence prevention,” said Nancy J. Brown, MD, Jean and David W. Wallace Dean of Medicine, at the unveiling.
Hamburg’s first academic appointment was at Stanford University School of Medicine. Her research on typical adolescence, adolescent psychopathology, and endocrine-behavior interactions focused on understanding behavioral and developmental issues among adolescent children. She incorporated these insights into a novel, school-based counseling program that also proved effective in the field of conflict resolution.
During her long career, Hamburg headed psychiatric clinical services at Harvard and Mount Sinai and was named the DeWitt Wallace Distinguished Scholar at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. She engaged in national forums on adolescent development and minority health. Her success in the academic arena attracted the attention of the William T. Grant Foundation. She served as president from 1992 to 1998, guiding the foundation’s work to support healthy lives and violence reduction among children. Afterward, she continued to engage in advisory and advocacy work.
The YSM Program for Art in Public Spaces (PAPS) commissioned the portrait from artist Elizabeth Colomba, who is known for her depictions of Black individuals in a style that is reminiscent of the distinguished European painters of the 16th, 17th, and early 18th centuries. “Part of my practice is not only to shine a light on diversity and people who have marked their time doing something exceptional, but also to tell the story about them, not only what they do, but how they live,” she said.
“When I look at this portrait, I feel that it captures a woman of purpose and determination and integrity, someone at home at a place of work—her desk—but surrounded by the paraphernalia of her daily life,” said Hamburg’s daughter, Margaret Hamburg, MD, who helped to unveil the portrait. “She really felt that Yale was a place that allowed her to develop her passion for medicine and science and to become a better person.”
In his remarks, Darin Latimore, MD, deputy dean for diversity and inclusion and co-director of PAPS, thanked the Yale community for helping to envision the project. “When I first arrived in 2017, there were local constituents who came to me saying that the art on our walls does not reflect our community. Specifically, the Committee for Diversity, Inclusion and Social Justice, SWIM [the Committee for the Status of Women and Medicine] and MORE [Minority Organization for Retention & Expansion] were pushing for the walls to be more inclusive.” The painting will find its permanent home prominently displayed at the entrance to the medical library. “This portrait will change the experience of walking through Sterling Hall of Medicine,” said Anna Reisman, MD, professor of internal medicine (general medicine) and co-director of PAPS.
The unveiling was followed by the inaugural Beatrix A. McCleary Hamburg, MD ‘48 Lecture, given by Juanita L. Merchant, MD, PhD, chief of gastroenterology and hepatology and Regents Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona, Tucson.