A Mission to the Race: The History of Black Women Physicians and Education, 1900-1941
Margaret Vigil-Fowler

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Independent Scholar

Primary Discipline

Lack of diversity in medicine continues to cost people of color their longevity and well-being. As early as the nineteenth century, Black women understood that if they became physicians, they could provide care to members of their communities who otherwise did not receive it—especially Black women and children—and address some of the racial health disparities they observed. To do so, they first needed medical educations, and they primarily relied on two HBCUs, Howard and Meharry, to obtain training. My study investigates the histories of these two schools and the experiences of their Black women students. It will also provide insight as to why these women chose these particular medical schools for their training and why these two schools were more receptive to Black women students than even other historically black schools or women’s schools. Using Critical Race Theory and intersectionality, my archival research will provide an historical understanding of educational opportunities available to African American women and how they used them to become physicians in underserved communities. It will also investigate how educational reforms intended to raise professional standards limited who could practice medicine and which communities received medical care. My historical analysis holds profound implications for diversifying the medical profession and addressing inequities in Black women’s health today.
About Margaret Vigil-Fowler
Meg Vigil-Fowler is an historian of medicine who studies how constructions of race and gender influence who can participate in science and medicine and how persistent lack of diversity in the medical profession contributes to the perpetuation of racial health disparities in the United States. Her current research focuses on the history of Black women physicians who trained between the Civil War and the start of the Second World War. She is currently writing a collective biography of four of the first African American women who earned medical degrees. Meg received her doctorate from the Department of Anthropology, History, and Social Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and was awarded the Shryock Medal by the American Association for the History of Medicine. She was a 2020 NAEd/Spencer Research Development Awardee. Her most recent article appears in History of Science.

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