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Dr. Helen Dickens

February 11, 2012

An Ohio native, Helen Octavia Dickens (1909-2001) was the only African- American female to graduate from the University of Illinois School of Medicine and later became the first African- American woman to serve in Penn’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is also recognized for being the first black person to receive the Gimbel Philadelphia Award (1971) for her “outstanding service to humanity.”

Upon graduating from University of Illinois School of Medicine in 1934, Dickens spent seven years at a birth-home facility in North Philadelphia, practicing with renowned OB/gyn Dr. Virginia Alexander. After that, she pursued further training at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Medicine and in 1945, became the first African-American female OB/gyn to be board-certified in Philadelphia. Throughout her tenure, Dickens  served  as a member of several organizations such as Pan American Medical Women’s Association, for which she served as president from 1968 to 1970, the American Cancer Society, and Children’s Aid Society. She also received numerous awards, including American Medical Woman of the Year, Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania, Daisy Lumpkin Award (Links Inc.), Mercy Douglass Hospital Award, and the Sadie Alexander Award for community service (Delta Sigma Theta).

Dickens’ accomplishments transcend beyond her prestigious accolades. Passionate about teen advocacy, she created a teen clinic at Penn that provided counseling, group therapy, prenatal care, and educational classes for adolescent mothers in the Philadelphia community. In addition to her work with teen pregnancy, she studied cervical cancer, helping develop cancer detection facilities in underprivileged communities in Philadelphia. In 1969, she was appointed as the Associate Dean of Minority Affairs at Penn’s medical school and in only five years, increased the amount of minority medical students from two or three to sixty-four. In 1999, The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) named The Helen O. Dickens Center for Women’s Health for Dickens, honoring her for fifty years “dedicated to healing, helping, and guiding women all women.” Dickens died on December 2nd, 2001, at age 92. She is survived by two children, Jayne Brown and Norman S. Henderson.

Mimi Owusu, CAS ’12

One Comment leave one →
  1. Ronald K Jones permalink
    February 15, 2015 11:05 am

    Dr Dickens delivered me in 1952. That is something that I have always been very proud of.

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