Black lives celebrated: A renewed appreciation

During her lifetime Dr. Helen Octavia Dickens, the first Black woman to earn a Master’s of Medical Science degree at the University of Pennsylvania, was not widely known. Dr. Dickens was the first female African American doctor to become board certified in obstetrics and gynecology in Philadelphia as well as the first to be named a fellow of the American College of Surgeons.  She is now the subject of a detailed and heartfelt exhibit designed by CG. In a prominent corridor at Penn’s medical school, a timeline outlines the extraordinary accomplishments of this gutsy and trailblazing activist.

The daughter of a man born into slavery, Dr. Dickens became a pioneering advocate of the Pap smear, and helping save countless lives. As Associate Dean of Minority Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, she was responsible for boosting minority enrollment from three to 64 students in her first five years alone.

As a further honor, Penn has created the Helen O. Dickens Center for Women within their department of obstetrics and gynecology as well as a scholarship in her name. Read more about Dr. Dickens here in this issue of Penn Medicine magazine.

Project partners

Carol Perloff

Black lives celebrated: A renewed appreciation