In 1864 Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first black woman to receive a medical degree in the United States. In the years following Crumpler’s accomplishment, the number of black women physicians would rise to 115, however, by 1920 U.S. Census records listed only sixty-five black female medical doctors.
With changes in the requirements for state board examinations and certifications, in addition to the racism and sexism that was customary at the time, it became increasingly difficult for black women to become doctors. For the women who were able to defy the odds and attain the MD degree, they then had to face the hardship of securing an internship. Only a small number of hospitals in the country accepted blacks or women, with the black hospitals preferring black men and the women’s hospitals preferring white women. To be black and a woman required nothing short of academic perfection, unyielding will, and favor from God.
Enter Dr. Sarah Evelyn Lewis, Zeta’s 5th Grand Basileus.
When Sarah entered Howard’s medical school in the fall of 1924, one hundred and eighty- five students had applied, forty- eight were selected, and Sarah—the sole woman—was one of them. Lewis excelled and was selected to join the Kappa Pi Honorary Medical Society, an organization for medical students based on merit. In 1927 she received a competitive appointment to Howard’s Freedman’s Hospital for her internship, and in so doing, glided effortlessly over a difficult hurdle. The next one wasn’t so easy. After she completed her internship she made inquiries all around the country for a placement at a hospital; but every door was closed to her. Many hospitals would not start accepting black women doctors until a shortage of doctors during World War II left them no other option. Dr. Lewis eventually had to work as a maid to make ends meet, but she never gave up her dream to become a practicing doctor. In the 1930s she had a practice of her own in New Jersey and eventually opened one together with her husband in Brooklyn, New York. She would spend the rest of her life practicing medicine.
Drumroll please… … … …
The 8 Reasons Why I’m completely infatuated with Dr. Sarah Evelyn Lewis.
- She never gave up on her dream. She stuck it out when others would have caved and she achieved her goal.
- She served as Grand Basileus of Zeta Phi Beta and excelled in med school…at the same time.
- She chartered a graduate chapter.
- She kept her name.
- She kept her name and helmed auxiliaries for the wives of organizations that her husband was a member of, such as the Kappa Silhouettes, an auxillary of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. She was the first, and longest serving president, serving a whopping 14 years!
- At Howard’s Medical School, every way she turned her head her eyes rested on a dapper chap with nice manners & marriage potential written all over him.
- She knew better than to leave without one—Doctor Leory Payne.
- The fact that he loved her, and iheart a good love story.