For their contributions to the health of black women

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Helen Octavia Dickens, MD (1909-2001)

Dickens, a committed gynecologist and obstetrician, was the first female African-American fellow of the American College of Surgeons and first board certified African-American OBGYN in Philadelphia. She graduated from the University of Illinois College of Medicine, Chicago in 1934 as the only black female in a class of 137. She focused on research related to teen pregnancy, sexual health issues, and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases in efforts to empower young black women.

Dickens founded a teen clinic at the University of Pennsylvania for inner city teenage mothers and started a project that cancer detection facilities into the city as well. She also, using funding from the National Institutes of Health, funded a project that encouraged doctors to give Pap smears to women to test for cervical cancer.

On the board of directors of nonprofits such as the American Cancer Society, the Children’s Aid Society and the Devereaux Foundation, Dickens also held honorary degrees from the Medical College of Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania. Her commitment to protecting women’s help and service to inner cities paved the way for black women to continue the work she started. The University of Pennsylvania names the Helen O. Dickens Center for Women’s Health in her honor.



Roselyn Payne Epps, MD, MPH. (1930-2014)

Fierce remembers the legacy of Roselyn Payne Epps, a dedicated public health professional who spent her life servicing women and children in underrepresented communities. Among her many accomplishments, Epps was the first Acting Commissioner of Public Health for Washington, D.C. in 1980, co-edited the award-winning book, The Women’s Complete Handbook, which was written by medical professionals for the general public, and was the first African-American national president of the American Medical Women’s Association.

Epps was the founding Director of the High Risk Young People’s Project which collaborated with Howard University, her alma mater, Hospital departments, the DC Department of Public Health and other agencies. Another organization of which Epps was a leader and founding board chair is Girls, Inc. Her impact extended internationally as well. In 1984, Epps was part of a team of health professionals sponsored by the World Bank, PSI, Inc. which reviewed health care delivery systems in Liberia.

In addition to her involvement in numerous health and service organizations, Epps co-authored over 95 peer-reviewed articles and frequently gave lectures and presentations on different medical topics. Epps was passionate in her role as a health care official and desired to better the status of women and children across the globe. She is featured, for her extensive medical contributions, in the National Library of Medicine exhibit celebrating America’s Women Physicians.