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Helen Octavia Dickens

February 20, 2010

Helen Octavia Dickens (1909-2001) was the first black woman to serve as a staff and faculty member in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Dickens was also the first board-certified Ob/gyn in Philadelphia (1945) and the first black woman admitted to the American College of Surgeons (1950).

Born in Dayton, Ohio in 1909, Dr. Dickens was first trained as a physician at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, then continued her education at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Medicine. In 1951, she became a courtesy staff member of Women’s Hospital and later, when the Women’s Hospital was merged into the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, became a member of the staff and faculty in Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the School of Medicine.

Dr. Dickens, in 1967, founded the Teen Clinic at Penn to aid teenage mothers in Philadelphia. She also, in 1969, was named associate dean of minority admissions at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine; among her accomplishments during her tenure was the increase in numbers of black medical students from two or three to 64.

For more info, see the Penn archives and the National Library of Medicine’s feature, Changing the Face of Medicine.

Kaneesha Parsard
COL ’11

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