Margaret Lawrence, First Black Female Psychoanalyst, Died At 105
Despite facing racial discrimination in her career she would become a renowned pediatrician and child psychologist.
December 16, 2019 at 3:56 pm
The first Black female psychoanalyst and therapist pioneer died at an assisted living facility on December 4 at 105 years old.
Born in Harlem, New York, in 1914, to an Episcopal priest and school teacher, Margaret Lawrence's parents moved to the city with the hopes of receiving better care than in the racially divided South, according to The New York Times.
Ultimately, her family relocated back down south after her father was assigned to a church in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
She was the second of her parents' two children and knew from an early age that she wanted to be a doctor. She graduated from an all-Black school but had her sights set on better learning opportunities up north. Lawrence eventually went to stay with her grandmother and aunts in Harlem before accepting a scholarship to Cornell University as a pre-med student.
Unlike in Mississippi, Lawrence faced many battles as a Black student looking to break barriers in the 1930s. She attended Cornell University with plans of enrolling in their medical program, however, she was denied because of her race.
She was forced to work as a live-in maid for a white family after being refused housing on campus.
The New York Times reports Lawrence had a nearly perfect academic record while attending Cornell.
After being denied, she applied to Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons and was accepted on one condition — that she wouldn't protest if white patients refused her services.
She recalled a conversation with her professor who failed at complimenting her work ethic: “Margaret, you don’t even seem like a Negro — you fit in so well.”
Lawrence eventually graduated as the only Black student in her class of 104.
Despite facing racial discrimination, she propelled in her career to eventually become a renowned pediatrician and child psychologist. She would ultimately go on to become the first Black female psychoanalyst, according to the New York Times.
“She was an innovative, iconoclastic, unusual child psychiatrist,” her daughter Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot said.
Her empathy toward children and her desire to help them develop their "ego-strength" and self-worth made her a gem in her community.
She treated young families in the state of New York and established a racially integrated community alongside her husband who was a civil rights activist. Lawrence would continue to live in the community before relocating to Boston.
Lawrence was also involved in politics due to her husband who was a conscientious objector during World War II.
“She understood that not just the interior life of a person but their context in the life of the family as well as forces in the community, particularly forces that are discriminatory, can leave people oppressed and marginalized,” Lawrence-Lightfoot said.
She spent her life supporting and being an advocate for the physical and emotional well-being of children and families in hopes that they would not suffer the way she did.