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Mon, 08.08.1921

Helen E. Nash, Pediatrician born

Helen E. Nash

*Helen Nash was born on this date in 1921.  She was a Black pediatrician and administrator. 

Helen Elizabeth Nash was born to Homer Erwin Nash and Marie Antoinette Graves Nash. Her father returned from World War I and started a medical practice called Herndon Building in 1910. Helen was the third of six children in the family, and they were raised in Atlanta. Both Nash's father and grandfather, Antoine Graves Nash, practiced medicine. Antoine sold his house to fund Helen's education for her medical degree.  

She received her bachelor’s degree from Spelman College in 1941. She received her medical degree from Meharry Medical College in 1945.  She made the honor roll in her first semester at Meharry Medical College and was one of only four women in her graduating class. She then began an internship at Homer G. Phillips Hospital. It was segregated then and was the only hospital in St. Louis open to Black doctors.  She directed many changes to the basic hygiene of the patients as well as broke racial divides between the black and white hospitals.

She also completed her pediatric residency at Homer G. Phillips Hospital and became chief resident with the help of her mentor, Dr. Park J. White.  She and White worked to improve the hospital's overall hygiene and equipment quality, reducing the infant mortality rate.  For instance, they managed to implement more incubators and handwashing facilities.  In 1949, Nash opened her medical practice in St. Louis. She was known for her generosity and openness and saw mostly poor patients. She educated teens on sex in her "Sex Room," which became a well-known feature of her practice.  That same year, she became the first black woman to join St. Louis Children's Hospital staff. She was also the first Black woman to join the Washington University School of Medicine staff, where she served as a professor of clinical pediatrics.  

In 1953, Nash joined the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Health and Welfare Council of Metropolitan St. Louis, and the Committee of the State Welfare Department of Missouri.  She married James B. Abernathy on August 1, 1964.  She became staff president in 1977, a position she held until 1979.  She retired as a professor in 1993 and served as the school's dean of minority affairs from 1994-1996.  Nash accumulated many awards during her career, including a Doctor of Humane Letters from Webster University in 1992 and a Lifetime Achievement Award in Health Care from the St. Louis American Foundation in 1996.  

In addition to healthcare, Nash often visited the Missouri Botanical Garden during her internship and became a member of the Garden's Board of Trustees in 1991.  She was granted honorary lifetime memberships to two medical societies: the St. Louis Medical Society in 1975 and Medical Women's Society in 1991.  In 1994, the NAACP magazine Crisis awarded Nash the Women's Medal of Honor.  Her legacy is carried out through the Dr. Helen E. Nash Academic Achievement Award, which The Washington University School of Medicine has given out every year since 1996.  In addition, in 2014, the St. Louis Children's Hospital began offering an internship to a young woman of color in Nash's honor.  Helen Nash, known for breaking racial and gender barriers in the medical field, died on October 4, 2012.

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