Determined To Rise: The History of Educating Black Women Physicians, 1864-1941
Margaret Vigil-Fowler

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Research Development Award

Award Year




Primary Discipline

Lack of diversity in medicine continues to cost people of color their longevity and well-being. Studies indicate that patients of color receive better care when their provider is also a person of color and the same gender (a phenomenon known as "concordance"). As early as the nineteenth century, Black women understood that if they became physicians, they could provide care to African Americans who otherwise did not receive it?especially 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 how these schools treated their African American 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. Through extensive analysis of archival sources using network analyses, comparative cohort analysis, Critical Race Theory and intersectionality, my research will investigate their educational experiences at these two schools and uncover what comprised their premedical educations. This 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. My historical analysis holds profound implications for diversifying the medical profession and addressing inequities in African American 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 African American women physicians who trained between the Civil War and the start of the Second World War. She has written articles on Black women physicians' medical educations and Black women physicians' unique roles in public health. Meg is currently writing a collective biography of the first ten African American women who earned medical degrees. She recently received her doctorate from the Department of Anthropology, History, and Social Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Her work has received funding and awards from the Drexel University College of Medicine Legacy Center Archives & Special Collections and the American Association for the History of Medicine.

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