Opening in 1937, St. Louis’s Homer G. Phillips Hospital emerged as the largest segregated African American hospital and one of the largest general hospitals in the United States. The municipal teaching hospital was a prominent provider of public health care to African Americans in St. Louis and in the Midwest. Moreover, the prestigious teaching hospital was known as a training ground for African American nurses, allied health professionals, and medical specialists who were barred from other opportunities. Yet the case of “Homer G.” as it has come to be affectionately known by Black St. Louisans is instructive as it represented much more than public hospital care. The hospital, and the historical context in which it was born and operated, speaks to a history of inclusion and exclusion in the history of medicine. This talk builds upon Ezelle Sanford’s dissertation research as he begins to formulate a book project, Segregated Medicine: The Homer G. Phillips Hospital Story (1937-1979)which employs a ground-level perspective to track a much larger history of segregated health care in St. Louis and in the United States over the course of the twentieth century. He argues that the social values and physical demands of the Jim Crow era shaped and reshaped the modern US health care system. This talk outlines the exigent circumstances that established segregated public health care, supported by the unlikely political alliance between white municipal leaders and African American elites, and its intertwined promises and perils in the medical arena.
Ezelle Sanford III is currently an advanced doctoral student and William G. Bowen Fellow in the Department of History, Program in the History of Science, at Princeton University. He specializes in the history of modern medicine and public health, African American history from emancipation to the present, and twentieth century United States history. He currently resides in St. Louis, MO where he is completing his dissertation work. Working at the intersection of history, Black studies, and anthropology, he studies race, medicine, and public health from the 19th century to the present. His research focuses on African Americans and their interactions with, and shaping of, twentieth century medicine and healthcare. Specifically, Ezelle’s dissertation, “A Source of Pride, A Vision of Progress: The Homer G. Phillips Hospital of St. Louis, MO (1937-1979),” uses the Homer G. Phillips hospital of St. Louis, MO to explore segregated healthcare and medical education and the role of African American hospitals in urban communities.