Helen Elizabeth Nash (1921-2012)
Helen Elizabeth Nash was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Spelman College and a medical degree from Meharry Medical College, one of four women in her graduating class. From there, Nash moved to St. Louis and interned at Homer G. Phillips Hospital. She completed her pediatric residency there, and shortly after became Chief Resident. Although Nash started her career at Homer G. Phillips Hospital, she later moved to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Upon arrival at the Children’s Hospital in 1949, she became the first African American woman to join the staff, later becoming president of staff from 1977-1979. Also in 1949, Nash became the first African American woman to join Washington University’s School of Medicine faculty, where she became employed as a professor of clinical pediatrics.
Both Nash’s educational and medical work concentrated on decreasing infant mortality. She worked at Homer G. Phillips to improve hygiene conditions and equipment quality such as incubators and hand-washing stations that in turn could reduce infant mortality. She was also one of the first doctors to address patient health care as care for both the patient and their loved ones. Nash started her own private practice in St. Louis, reputable for sexual health education for teens. Nash opened her practice doors to everyone, despite color or wealth. She retired as a professor in 1993, but still served as Washington University’s Dean of Minority Affairs from 1994-1996. Also in 1944, the NAACP magazine Crisis awarded her the Women’s Medal of Honor. Nash was so successful that she was granted a lifetime membership to the St. Louis Medical Society in 1975 and the Medical Women’s Society in 1991. Washington University School of Medicine started the Dr. Helen E. Nash Academic Achievement award in 1996. Much later in 2014, the St. Louis Children’s Hospital began offering an internship to young women of color in Nash’s name. Today, Helen Elizabeth Nash is known for breaking racial and gender barriers in pediatric medicine.