What a country

 

For Black History Month, I was asked to research the first black woman Ob/Gyn in the US and to talk about her at this morning’s service. Little did I realize what I would find. 

I found her, at least the first one to have board certification. I gave this presentation (here edited down a bit) at this morning’s service.

She was Helen Octavia Dickens.

Born in Dayton, OH in 1909, her father had been enslaved as a child, was liberated and raised as a son by a Union officer. He studied law but worked as a custodian, due to Northern prejudice. Her Mom worked as a domestic.

Her parents insisted that Helen receive a good education. She attended an integrated high school, then the University of Illinois.

Helen was the first black woman student at the University of Illinois School of Medicine, graduating in 1934. After an internship in Chicago, she moved to Philadelphia, practicing in difficult circumstances in a poor neighborhood. One night she came to attend a laboring woman only to find that there was no electricity. She moved the woman’s bed to the window to conduct the delivery by streetlight. Such experiences led Dr Dickens to place four birthing beds into a row house, creating a small childbirth center.

Faithful to her mission and un-intimidated by predominantly white institutions, she pursued an advanced degree at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Medicine.

In 1943, she married Purvis Henderson, also a Penn resident. They moved to New York where Helen studied gynecologic surgery at Harlem Hospital. In 1945 she received her Master of Science from Penn. In 1946 she completed her surgical training and was the first black physician certified by the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In 1950, she became the first black woman member of the American College of Surgeons.

Returning to Penn, she rose through the ranks from instructor to full professor. When Pap smears and mammography became known, she opened cancer detection programs in poor areas of Philadelphia. She taught also at Medical College of Pennsylvania and at other Philadelphia hospitals.

In 1967 Dr Dickens founded Penn’s “Teen Clinic”, providing contraception, counseling and prenatal care to adolescent women. In 1969, she became dean of minority admissions at Penn; in five years the number of black medical students at Penn grew from three to 64.

She retired as professor emeritus in 1985, receiving many awards, including the AMA’s Medical Woman of the Year.

While I was in training at Penn I worked at the Teen Clinic from 1987-88, just missing the chance to learn from this legendary physician. I met Dr Dickens at our graduation in 1989.

In 1999, Penn rebuilt the Teen Clinic, naming it The Helen O. Dickens Center for Women’s Health, honoring her fifty years “dedicated to healing, helping, and guiding.” Helen’s legacy provides care to women of all ages without regard for their ability to pay.

Helen died in 2001, aged 92. Her daughter Dr. Jayne Henderson Brown followed in Helen’s footsteps and practices medicine in Philadelphia.

In Helen Dickens’ story we see the “arc of the moral universe bending toward justice” as God’s love passes through the generations. Helen’s father was born into slavery in 1855, but the kindness of a Union soldier led to that lad’s daughter becoming a pioneering physician, providing specialty care to under-served women. When I shook her hand in 1989, Dr Dickens was an emeritus professor at one of our finest medical schools.

It is a privilege to live in a country that has such women in it.

Thank you, Dr Dickens.

Can you believe this? 

A family goes from enslavement to Emeritus Professor at an Ivy League medical school in ONE GENERATION. And I worked in her clinic, without knowing her story, and I met her. I talked to a woman whose father was a slave and who herself had to fight prejudice, but who rose to the highest echelons of academia. And I didn’t know her astonishing history until doing my research last week.

Don’t tell me that this is a racist nation.

And be aware that there are heroes all among us, every day, in every state. We may not see them, but they are there.

By the way, our congregation loved the presentation. There is a very broad conservative streak in middle class Black culture. We dishonor American blacks by ignoring it.

 

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There are 45 comments.

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  1. Seawriter Member

    One of the best examples of what living in the US is really about. In my family we went from the grandparents who immigrated here – peasant farmers on hardscrabble Greek mountainsides – to teachers, engineers, and other professionals in my parents’ generation.

    God blessed America. May He continue to bless America.

    • #1
    • February 10, 2019, at 3:11 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor

    What an awesome, inspiring story. And there are more like her, but they don’t toot their own horns. Too bad; we need their stories out there!

    • #2
    • February 10, 2019, at 3:18 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  3. MarciN Member

    What a wonderful story. Thank you for posting it here.

    • #3
    • February 10, 2019, at 3:27 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  4. PHCheese Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    One of the best examples of what living in the US is really about. In my family we went from the grandparents who immigrated here – peasant farmers on hardscrabble Greek mountainsides – to teachers, engineers, and other professionals in my parents’ generation.

    God blessed America. May He continue to bless America.

    My Grandfather was subsisting on grass and seaweed before he left Ireland for America in the 1890s. He thanked God everyday.

    • #4
    • February 10, 2019, at 4:03 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  5. John H. Member

    This may be black history to some, but it is American history to me.

    • #5
    • February 10, 2019, at 4:22 PM PDT
    • 24 likes
  6. OldPhil Coolidge

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    One of the best examples of what living in the US is really about. In my family we went from the grandparents who immigrated here – peasant farmers on hardscrabble Greek mountainsides – to teachers, engineers, and other professionals in my parents’ generation.

    God blessed America. May He continue to bless America.

    My Grandfather was subsisting on grass and seaweed before he left Ireland for America in the 1890s. He thanked God everyday.

    Yeah, my great-great grandfather was probably eating moss and tree bark (if there were any trees left) when he left during the Great Famine in the 1840s. I’m glad he did. 

    • #6
    • February 10, 2019, at 6:45 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  7. Arahant Member

    Doctor Robert: A family goes from enslavement to Emeritus Professor at an Ivy League medical school in ONE GENERATION. And I worked in her clinic, without knowing her story, and I met her. I talked to a woman whose father was a slave and who herself had to fight prejudice, but who rose to the highest echelons of academia. And I didn’t know her astonishing history until doing my research last week.

    It is quite something.

    • #7
    • February 10, 2019, at 6:48 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  8. Front Seat Cat Member

    She obviously never saw herself as a victim, and never saw others as more privileged so a reason to be bitter – she saw opportunity, to help and love her fellow citizens – what a great story and one the liberals ought to tell, but you never hear – inspiration.

    • #8
    • February 10, 2019, at 6:49 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  9. Henry Castaigne Member

    The story that the left tells of Black-Americans is that they are poor victims who can’t get ahead. The actual history of Black-Americans is that in terrible circumstances they succeed in spite of disgusting racism.

    Ever since slavery ended, Black-American started to close the gap between whites and blacks. Slaves walked across states to reunite with their families and worked very hard to get their children literate. Blacks continued to work their way up until the 1960s. Then stuff got weird.

    • #9
    • February 10, 2019, at 10:16 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  10. Seawriter Member

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):
    Blacks continued to work their way up until the 1960s. Then stuff got weird.

    Democrats got afraid the blacks were going to succeed – and gave them a poisoned pill to stop the success.

    • #10
    • February 10, 2019, at 10:50 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  11. Henry Castaigne Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):
    Blacks continued to work their way up until the 1960s. Then stuff got weird.

    Democrats got afraid the blacks were going to succeed – and gave them a poisoned pill to stop the success.

    I don’t think they consciously did that. I feel like Democrats saw emerging Black-American success and then they freaked out and encouraged blacsks to not succeed. But they were always dumb about their emotional impulses.

    • #11
    • February 10, 2019, at 11:08 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Seawriter Member

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Democrats got afraid the blacks were going to succeed – and gave them a poisoned pill to stop the success.

    I don’t think they consciously did that. I feel like Democrats saw emerging Black-American success and then they freaked out and encouraged blacsks to not succeed. But they were always dumb about their emotional impulses.

    You give them more credit than they deserve. Johnson instituted the War on Poverty to make blacks dependent upon the government – and thereby on the Democrats who favored big government. It was deliberate. Anti-black, and anti-woman has always been a plank in the Democrats’ platform since the 1790s when they took the vote away from women in New Jersey. They supported slavery, then the Klan, and then Jim Crow.

    When that failed to keep blacks down and Republicans got women the right to vote, the Democrats figured out policies to undermine women and minorities by giving them government goodies in the name of “helping.” Just like the neighborhood dope peddler gives free samples to first-time customers.

    • #12
    • February 10, 2019, at 11:25 PM PDT
    • 13 likes
  13. RyanFalcone Member

    Half our country thinks Kermit Gosnell is a bigger hero than her. Sorry……can’t type anything more….I’m feeling nauseous.

    • #13
    • February 11, 2019, at 7:59 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. Ansonia Member

    Outstanding post !

    Somebody needs to write a book of short biographies of black Americans whose stories don’t quite fit the Leftist narrative.

    • #14
    • February 11, 2019, at 8:00 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  15. Skyler Coolidge

    Thank you for this post. 

    • #15
    • February 11, 2019, at 8:03 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. Ansonia Member

    Re #12

    They took the vote away from women in New Jersey in 1790 ? That should be the subject of a post.

    • #16
    • February 11, 2019, at 8:03 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  17. Herbert defender of the Realm,… Inactive

    Wonderful story….

    • #17
    • February 11, 2019, at 8:05 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  18. Herbert defender of the Realm,… Inactive

    RyanFalcone (View Comment):

    Half our country thinks Kermit Gosnell is a bigger hero than her. Sorry……can’t type anything more….I’m feeling nauseous.

    name one person who takes this position….

    • #18
    • February 11, 2019, at 8:06 AM PDT
    • Like
  19. RyanFalcone Member

    Herbert defender of the Realm,… (View Comment):

    RyanFalcone (View Comment):

    Half our country thinks Kermit Gosnell is a bigger hero than her. Sorry……can’t type anything more….I’m feeling nauseous.

    name one person who takes this position….

    The Democrats in the NY and VA state legislatures just to name a few (and those who continue to support them). They just voted for legislation that would legalize what he did. Not only that, last year, I read a story where one of the leading Republicans made a statement in an interview where he stated (I believe it was Cruz in a Fox interview) that the Democrats wanted to make what he did perfectly legal. I believe it was Red State that covered the twitter response to his statement. There was no shortage of responses from the left that backed up what Cruz had said. In particular, several Hollywood personalities began a hashtag campaign for people to be “proud of their abortions” and they made it clear that at the very least they meant through the 3rd trimester.

    • #19
    • February 11, 2019, at 8:23 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  20. Right Wing Teamster Lawyer Thatcher

    Great story–Thanks for sharing–what a great woman–did so much to help the poor and underprivileged.

    While we can learn many lessons, I think “you [me] can do more to help” stands out in my mind.

    • #20
    • February 11, 2019, at 9:03 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. Bruce Caward Thatcher

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):
    Blacks continued to work their way up until the 1960s. Then stuff got weird.

    Democrats got afraid the blacks were going to succeed – and gave them a poisoned pill to stop the success.

    I don’t think they consciously did that. I feel like Democrats saw emerging Black-American success and then they freaked out and encouraged blacks to not succeed. But they were always dumb about their emotional impulses.

    I have always thought this was the most pernicious form of racism. If you see the black man as a special case, one who needs your help to succeed, you unavoidably see yourself as superior to him. And if it looks like he might be starting to do okay by himself, you institute a bunch of programs to “help” him, so that you can always say that he wouldn’t have made it without them, and you.

    Frederick Douglass called it way back when. When asked by the government what they could do for the black man, he cried “Do nothing. Stop helping us! We will be fine, just like you.” (Or something to that effect.)

    There are many people in our lives who need help, and it is of course virtuous and kind to give them help. But there is no race of people who need help from another race of people.

    • #21
    • February 11, 2019, at 9:16 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  22. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    This! A story of life well lived, with challenges few of us here can even dream of facing.

    Thank you for bringing Helen Dickens to our attention, Doctor Robert.

    • #22
    • February 11, 2019, at 11:39 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  23. Theodoric of Freiberg Member

    This is the best thing I’ve read in months. Thank you so very much.

    • #23
    • February 11, 2019, at 12:55 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  24. The Reticulator Member

    Ansonia (View Comment):

    Re #12

    They took the vote away from women in New Jersey in 1790 ? That should be the subject of a post.

    I don’t know that it’s relevant to current Democrats, and I didn’t know about this particular example, but women in the U.S. lost a lot of legal ground in the half century before the civil war. Or so I’ve read in reviews of books on the period. 

    • #24
    • February 11, 2019, at 3:59 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  25. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Ansonia (View Comment):

    Re #12

    They took the vote away from women in New Jersey in 1790 ? That should be the subject of a post.

    I don’t know that it’s relevant to current Democrats, and I didn’t know about this particular example, but women in the U.S. lost a lot of legal ground in the half century before the civil war. Or so I’ve read in reviews of books on the period.

    So did free blacks in both the north and south in the same period.

    • #25
    • February 11, 2019, at 4:48 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  26. Seawriter Member

    Ansonia (View Comment):

    Re #12

    They took the vote away from women in New Jersey in 1790 ? That should be the subject of a post.

    Sometime in the 1790s. I am away from home, so don’t have the reference.

    In the 1790s New Jersey allowed one vote per household – which meant the wife could cast the vote if her husband did not. It also allowed a widow to vote for her household. 

    Women consistently voted Federalists. (This was before the secret ballot.) When the Democratic-Republicans ( the precursor party to today’s Democrats) took control of the state legislature, they eliminated the one vote per household replacing it with one man, one vote. Women could no longer vote.

    • #26
    • February 12, 2019, at 1:58 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  27. David Carroll Thatcher

    Ansonia (View Comment):

    Outstanding post !

    Somebody needs to write a book of short biographies of black Americans whose stories don’t quite fit the Leftist narrative.

    Surely there must be such a book out there. If anyone knows of one, I would like to buy it.

    • #27
    • February 12, 2019, at 4:10 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  28. Ansonia Member

    I’m especially interested in books that would tell me more about women and free blacks losing legal ground in the half century before the Civil War. Also interested in finding out how I find out when different states, especially Virginia, made it against the law to teach a slave to read. Did news of the revolution in Haiti have anything to do with it ? (is what I’m wondering).

    • #28
    • February 13, 2019, at 8:19 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  29. Arahant Member

    Ansonia (View Comment):
    lso interested in finding out how I find out when different states, especially Virginia, made it against the law to teach a slave to read. Did news of the revolution in Haiti have anything to do with it ? (is what I’m wondering).

    Might try after the Nat Turner Rebellion.

    • #29
    • February 13, 2019, at 8:34 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  30. Ansonia Member

    Thank you very much, Arahant.

    • #30
    • February 13, 2019, at 9:24 AM PDT
    • Like
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