Virginia M. Alexander
Virginia M. Alexander
|Alma mater||Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania|
|Known for||Founding the Aspiranto Health Home in Philadelphia|
|Fields||Obstetrics and gynecology|
Virginia M. Alexander was born in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on February 4, 1899. She had four siblings, one of them being the prominent attorney Raymond Pace Alexander. Throughout her younger years, she was faced with many hardships. At age four, her mother died and at age 13 her father's livery business closed, causing financial problems. Alexander dropped out of school to help her family, although she would continue her education. These hardships did not deter Alexander’s academics, and she graduated early from William Penn High School in Philadelphia. In addition to graduating with honors, she was active in various organizations such as her school’s paper and serving as a judge on Student Court. She would attend the University of Pennsylvania on a scholarship for one-hundred dollars per year which was received through an essay contest, although this was not enough. While in college, she worked many jobs, including as a waitress and maid. She was also a member of the black sorority Delta Sigma Theta. Upon graduation after three years, she applied to attend the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania and had the second highest application score. She also received a scholarship from a World War veteran’s mother to help offset her expenses. Although she faced discrimination and prejudice due to her race and gender, she was able to successfully graduate from medical school.
When Alexander went to intern at hospitals, she was turned away due to racism and sexism. After multiple denials, she secured an internship in Kansas City to intern at Kansas City General Hospital. Kansas City General Hospital even reversed their policy of not allowing women and Alexander and E. Mae McCarroll, who also attended Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, were able to intern because of this change.
After graduation and completion of her internship, Alexander returned to Philadelphia to practice medicine. She founded Aspiranto Health Home in her home in 1931, which provided health services to impoverished African American community members in North Philadelphia. Her work in private practice helped to fund her charitable medical care. Services ranged from general health care to obstetrics to emergency medicine and all were provided for free if patients were unable to pay. Alexander was not the only physician, as her colleague Helen Octavia Dickens was also active as a practitioner at the house. Alexander also taught at the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania during this time.
During this time and the years that followed, Alexander was active in a variety of different social, professional, and academic organizations and also practiced medicine at Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Nurses’ Training School, the Hospital of Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Hospital, the United States Department of Health, and performed administrative work at Convalescent Hospital. In her community, she was active on the board of Wharton Settlement, the Young Woman’s Christian Association, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the Religious Society of Friends, where she was active in both in Race Relations Committee and Institute of Race Relations, and also the Young Friends Movement.
She received her master's degree in public health from Yale University in 1937 and started working at Howard University as a "physician-in-charge of women students." Alexander also did work for the United States Department of Health. While at Howard, she also had her own private practice. In the 1940s, during World War II, she worked in Alabama tending to miners. She volunteered for this position in response to many physicians being recruited into the war.
Death and legacy
While working in Birmingham, Alabama, Alexander developed lupus. She then moved back to Philadelphia and she worked as an OBGYN at the Women's Medical College Hospital, Mercy Hospital and Pennsylvania Hospital until she passed away in 1949. Her personal papers and records are held in the Alexander Family Collection of the University of Pennsylvania. Aspiranto Home Health, which she founded, is listed as an African American Historic site by the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia.
"The Social, Economic, and Health Problems of North Philadelphia Negroes and Their Relationship to a Proposed Interracial Public Health Demonstration Center," 1935.
"Negro Hospitalization," 1937.
"The Health Status and Needs of the Negro Adolescent," 1940.
"The Health Status of Negro Workers in the National Youth Administration in the District of Columbia," 1941.
- "Dr. Virginia M. Alexander". Biography. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- Spurgeon, Charles. A Preface to Racial Understanding. pp. 126–130.
- Gamble, Vanessa Northington (August 2016). ""Outstanding Services to Negro Health": Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, Dr. Virginia M. Alexander, and Black Women Physicians' Public Health Activism". American Journal of Public Health. 106 (8): 1397–1404. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2016.303252. ISSN 1541-0048. PMID 27310348.
- "Alexander Family Collection". University Archives. University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- Sharon Harley; Black Women and Work Collective (2002). Sister Circle: Black Women and Work. Rutgers University Press. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-8135-3061-1.
- "Dr. Virginia M. Alexander". Changing the Face of Medicine. June 3, 2015. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt). Can a woman be a physician?. pp. 1–2.
- "Inventory of African American Historic Sites - Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia". Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. Retrieved 2017-11-28.