Juneteenth: Celebrating Black women in obstetrics and gynecology

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June 19, 1865, also known as Juneteenth, celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. On this day nearly 160 years ago, Union troops arrived in Galveston, TX to announce the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of slavery in the United States.

In honor of Juneteenth, we would like to recognize some of the exceptional Black women and their contributions to and advancement of the obstetrics and gynecology fields.

Helen Octavia Dickens, MD

Helen Octavia Dickens, MD, 1950. Source: National Library of Medicine, Images from the History of Medicine, B07139

Helen Octavia Dickens, MD, 1950. Source: National Library of Medicine, Images from the History of Medicine, B07139

Helen Octavia Dickens earned her medical degree in 1934 from the University of Illinois and was the only Black woman in her graduating class.

11 years later, in 1945, Dickens became the first Black woman to receive board certification in obstetrics and gynecology. Additionally, she was the first Black woman to be admitted as a fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

Learn more about Dickens’ work and life in Changing the faces of Medicine, the latest exhibition from the National Library of Medicine.

Roselynn Epps, MD, MPH

Roselynn Epps, MD. Source: National Library of Medicine

Roselynn Epps, MD. Source: National Library of Medicine

Roselynn Epps was a great advocate for women’s health and public health issues and made significant impact in the field.

In 1974, Epps became the first Black president of the American Medical Women’s Association and went on as a scientific program administrator for the National Institutes of Health. Learn more about Roselynn Epps here.

Margaret Charles Smith

Some refer to Margaret Charles Smith as one of the last great “Granny” midwives before their outlaw in Alabama in 1976. Smith delivered her first baby at the early age of 5, and was often paid in produce, fruit or eggs instead of the $5 service fee.

With over 3,500 births behind her, Smith reportedly never lost a mother. More information about Smith’s dedication to her career can be found in the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame.

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