Lena Frances Edwards

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Lena Frances Edwards Madison
Lena Frances Edwards.jpg
Edwards in 1980
BornSeptember 17, 1900
DiedDecember 3, 1986(1986-12-03) (aged 86)
Spouse(s)Keith Madison
Parent(s)Thomas Edwards
Marie Coakley
AwardsPresidential Medal of Freedom

Lena Frances Edwards (September 17, 1900 – December 3, 1986) was a New Jersey physician who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


Edwards was born in Washington, D.C., on September 17, 1900.[1] She was the daughter of dentist and oral surgeon Thomas Edwards and Marie Coakley Edwards, a homemaker.

Edwards was valedictorian of her class at Washington's Dunbar High School in 1917. She completed her undergraduate studies at Howard University in three years, and graduated from Howard University Medical School in 1924. While at Howard Edwards joined Delta Sigma Theta, and served as chapter president from 1920-1921. She and Keith Madison, a fellow student at the medical school, were married following their graduation. They had six children together between 1925 and 1939. She separated from Madison in 1947.

Edwards died in 1986 in Lakewood, New Jersey.

Medical career[edit]

In 1925, Edwards and her husband moved to Jersey City, New Jersey, and each entered medical practice. She became a speaker on public health and a natural childbirth advocate while serving the European immigrant community of Hudson County, New Jersey. In 1931, she joined the staff of Margaret Hague Hospital in Jersey City, but because white supremacy and the patriarchy created barriers to prevent the professional advancement of Black women, she was not admitted to residency in obstetrics and gynecology there until 1945.

Edwards returned to Washington in 1954 and taught obstetrics at Howard University Medical School. She would not accept a position as department chair because of her religious objections to abortion.[citation needed] She was the medical adviser to the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs and chaired the Maternal Welfare Committee of the District of Columbia Urban League.

At the age of 60, Edwards helped found Our Lady of Guadeloupe Maternity Clinic in Hereford, Texas, a mission serving Mexican migrant worker families. She served at the mission until 1965, when a heart attack led her to leave and move back to Washington. She worked there at the Office of Economic Opportunity and Project Head Start until her retirement in 1970.

Religious life[edit]

Edwards was a devout adherent of Roman Catholic Christianity throughout her life. In 1947 she became a lay member of the Third Order of Saint Francis. Her son Thomas Madison joined the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in 1953 taking the religious name Martin.[2] He was ordained in 1962, and was the first African American priest to be ordained in the Society of the Atonement.[3]

Honors and legacy[edit]

Lena Edwards when interviewed for the Black Women Oral History Project

Her service was recognized by President Johnson in 1964, when she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1966 she was awarded an honorary degree from Saint Peter's College, New Jersey. She was awarded the Poverello Medal in 1967.


  1. ^ Smith, Deborah (1994). "Edwards, Lena Frances (1900–1986)". Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 387–388. ISBN 0-253-32774-1.
  2. ^ http://hwcdn.libsyn.com/p/6/7/6/676304bcf75950b5/catholicunderthehood11052011.mp3?c_id=3953625&expiration=1499481630&hwt=448d8fae6e70ffcfecc0cb434e3c7504
  3. ^ https://m.atonementfriars.org/press_releases_pdf/PR-Jubilees_2013.pdf[permanent dead link]

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