Yvonne Sylvain

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Yvonne Sylvain
Born(1907-06-28)June 28, 1907
DiedOctober 3, 1989(1989-10-03) (aged 82)
AwardsHaitian Medical Association Posthumously Award
Scientific career
FieldsObstetrics and gynaecology

Yvonne Sylvain (June 28, 1907 – October 3, 1989)[1] was the first female doctor from Haiti.[2] She was also the first woman accepted into the University of Haiti Medical School, and earned her medical degree in 1940. After graduation, she worked as a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology in the Port-au-Prince General Hospital.[3] As Haiti's first female practitioner she played an important role in providing improved medical access and tools for Haitian citizens.[1] Among her other accomplishments, she was also one of the voices fighting for physical, economical, social and political equality of Haitian women.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Dr. Yvonne Sylvain was born in Port-au-Prince to Eugénie Mallebranche and Georges Sylvain, a Haitian activist and an important figure of resistance against the American occupation of Haiti. They had seven children, one of them being Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvain, Haiti’s first woman anthropologist.[5]

Influenced heavily by her father, she attended Ecole Normale d’institutrices, where she graduated and began to work as a teacher.[6] At the age of 28, she was the first woman accepted into the medical school of the University of Haiti, and earned her medical degree in 1940.[3] She then received a scholarship from the Inter-American Health Bureau and was admitted to the Columbia University Medical School.[1] Three years after her internship she worked at the New York Post-Graduate Medical School and Hospital on a Pan-American Sanitary Bureau Fellowship.[3]


Dr. Yvonne Sylvain made many contributions to the medical field in Haiti and inspired other Haitian women to follow her steps. By 1953, thirteen years after Sylvain had graduated medical school, eight Haitian women had already received their doctor of medicine degree from University of Haiti and began practicing in Haiti.[7] At the time, the University of Haiti had 241 medical students enrolled, 17 of them were women.[7]

Following her graduation, she worked for many years at the General Hospital in obstetrics and gynecology.[1] The high mortality rate in Haiti inspired her to be a doctor, she invested her time and skills in treating many Haitians for various diseases.[1] She was passionate about the immediate health problems plaguing Haitians: sterility, overpopulation, cancer.[8] She also became a professor of medicine at the University of Haiti. She published many articles in medical journals and continued to research about the lethal health issues occurring in Haiti.[8]

She then became the Vice-President of the Haitian Foundation for Health and Education.[9] Upset by Haiti’s poor means of cancer treatment, Sylvain became adamant about investing in X-rays and other medical equipment to diagnose cancer.[8] It was her dream for more medical advancements to arrive in Haiti in order to decrease the number of Haitians dying of cancer.[8] She was a part of the Haitian League Against Cancer and helped introduced in Haiti the papanicolaou test for uterine cancer screening.[1] She created a special committee that helped collect funding from France and among the Haitian diaspora for a hospital that she wanted to build in Frères, a city in Haiti ten-minutes away from Pétionville, in order to provide medical access to a community of over 100,000 people.[10] Showing commitment to the cause, she remained the Vice-President of the Haitian Foundation for Health and Education until her death.[9]

With her organization improving Haitian hospitals, she began to work as a delegate in public health, especially for the reproductive health and research for the World Health Organization (WHO). [1] She also brought her medical knowledge to several African countries like Nigeria and Senegal and worked as a doctor in Costa Rica.


She actively promoted Haitian culture through her art.[8] She was taught under Normil Charles and also influenced by Petion Savain.[11] She worked heavily in the fields of art, painting, writing, art criticism, theater and even radio animation.[1] She was a very important cultural operator for her community.[9] Art, painting and theater were very important interest for Yvonne Sylvain during her early stages of life because she was deeply inserted in a very cultural community.[1] By 1932, she had exhibited over thirty oil paintings and drawings.[11] However the helplessness she felt from her mother’s passing inspired the 28 years of devotion to medical sciences.[1]


She was also active in the women's suffrage movement,[2] namely in the Ligue Féminine d'Action Sociale, which helped give Haitian women the right to vote in 1950.[9] She also published articles on public health issues in the Ligue's news outlet, La Voix des Femmes.[12]


The Haitian Medical Association (AMH) honored Sylvain posthumously as the first Haitian woman doctor.[13]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Avril, Erickson. "Yvonne Sylvain, médecin (1907-1989)". Haïtiennes. Éditions science et bien commun. Retrieved December 2, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Windsor, Laura Lynn (2002). Women in Medicine: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 193. ISBN 1576073920.
  3. ^ a b c Braggiotti, Mary (September 3, 1947). "Haiti's First Woman Physician" (PDF). New York Post. Retrieved June 26, 2018.
  4. ^ Journal of Haitian Studies. The Association. 1997. p. 84.
  5. ^ "Guide to the Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvan Papers M1835". Oac.cdlib.org. Retrieved March 23, 2015.
  6. ^ "Haiti-Reference : Notables d'Haiti : Yvonne Sylvain n. 28 juin 1907 Port-au-Prince d. 03 oct 1989". www.haiti-reference.com. Retrieved December 2, 2017.
  7. ^ a b Lovejoy, Esther Pohl (1957). Women Doctors of the World. Macmillan. p. 275.
  8. ^ a b c d e "Haiti's First Woman Doctor". Haiti Sun. January 23, 1955. Retrieved June 26, 2018.
  9. ^ a b c d Claude-Narcisse, Jasmine. "Yvonne Sylvain". Mémoire de femmes (in French). UNICEF-HAITI. Retrieved December 2, 2017.
  10. ^ Dartigue, Esther. "Four Articles from Association France-Haiti's Annual Bulletin" (PDF). Columbia University. Retrieved December 2, 2017.(subscription required)
  11. ^ a b Thoby-Marcelin, Philippe (1959). Haiti Art in Latin America Today. Pan American Union. p. 6.
  12. ^ "La Voix des Femmes: Haitian Women's Rights, National Politics, and Black Activism in Port-au-Prince and Montreal, 1934-1986" (in French). deepblue.lib.umich.edu. 2013. Retrieved April 28, 2017.
  13. ^ "La première femme haïtienne médecin honorée à titre posthume par le Corps médical" [The first woman Haitian doctor honored posthumously by the Medical Corps]. AlterPresse (in French). April 6, 2005. Retrieved December 2, 2017.