Helen Dickens, 92; Pioneering Black Physician

From Associated Press

Dr. Helen Dickens, the first black woman named a fellow by the American College of Surgeons, has died. She was 92.

Dickens, also the first black woman elected to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, died Sunday at Hahnemann University Medical Center in Philadelphia from complications of a stroke.

She was an associate professor at Women’s Medical College--now the Medical College of Pennsylvania--and an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology and associate dean of minority affairs at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.


Dickens maintained a private practice for years at her home in Philadelphia, established a clinic at the University of Pennsylvania for pregnant teenagers and was on the staff at Kensington Hospital. She also was an early advocate of using Pap smears to help detect cervical cancer.

“My career in medicine has been inspired mainly by the badly needed services to youth in the black community,” she said some years ago.

A native of Dayton, Ohio, Dickens wanted to be a nurse, but by age 12 had decided that she might as well become a doctor. She earned a medical degree at the University of Illinois in 1934 and started a practice in Philadelphia in 1935. In 1948, Dickens was named director of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the former Mercy-Douglass Hospital, serving in that position until 1967.

In 1998, the Helen O. Dickens Center for Women’s Health at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania was named in her honor. She had stopped seeing patients in 1994, a few years after retiring from teaching.

She is survived by her daughter, Jayne Brown, who is also a physician in the Philadelphia area; a son, Norman S. Henderson; and three grandchildren.