Assistant Professor of English Sarah Berry and students in her “Nineteenth-Century Women Healers and American Literature” course recently completed a project on one of the most important women in medical history, Dr. Sarah Loguen Fraser – a woman who has gone largely unrecognized by even the medical community.
Members of the class worked throughout the Spring 2012 semester to create a thorough and comprehensive look into the life of Fraser, one of first African-American women to earn an medical degree.
Their biography of Fraser, which emphasizes African-American history as well as the social issues of the time, was recently accepted to the National Library of Medicine, and is currently featured on the organization’s online exhibit “Changing the Face of Medicine.”
“The significance of getting this biography into the National Library is two-fold. Dr. Loguen Fraser is an important figure in our history and her story is virtually unknown,” explains Berry. “But perhaps more importantly, her express purpose was to continue the social justice work of her family and to continue to work for the African-American community. It is important to put her in a place where she is recognized as an African-American medical pioneer who improved the health and welfare of African Americans and African Dominicans.”
Throughout the semester, the students worked to recover pieces of Fraser’s life, putting into context the social aspects of her education and years in Central New York. Hours of intense archival research in Syracuse at the Onondaga Historical Association and SUNY Health Science Center Library and days spent scouring copies from the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center went into drafting the critical essay, recovering the nearly lost existence of Fraser.
Just four years after the Geneva Medical College moved to Syracuse University, Fraser became the first African American graduate of the Syracuse University College of Medicine in 1876.
“Doing hands on archival work allows my students to become deeply engaged in primary research work,” says Berry. “It also gives the students a real look at the larger social context of recovery research, and its value in understanding race and gender disparities in a world context beyond our readings and classroom discussions.”
For Greg Shelkey ’14, the research was different from the work he does in the chemistry department – however, it gave him a new look at the work he does in the organic chemistry lab. “Each of the reactions that I run, I am looking for a specific result; an unexpected result is not what I want,” explains Shelkey. “In complete contrast, the unexpected plot survey, a real estate map of Dr. Fraser’s childhood home, that I found this semester was my favorite part of the Dr. Loguen Fraser research.”
Berry believes that one of the greatest rewards of the project has been realizing that they have helped lay the foundation for Fraser to gain national visibility and earn well-deserved recognition.
“It’s gratifying to have an end product – to have work that matters and engages the public well beyond HWS,” says Berry, who saw her students’ perspectives on the continuing struggle for equality change over the course of the project. “They can see what still needs to be done-what still needs to happen to bring about true equality.”
“I think it was very important for us to write about Fraser- if we didn’t, would anyone else? Would her story have been lost?” asks Kristine Faulknham ’13, who will be attending Fraser’s alma mater, Upstate Medical School, after her graduation this spring. “Sometimes when we celebrate all of our known heroes – Dr. Martin Luther King, Sojourner Truth, George Washington – we forget some of the less publicly visible heroes that did help carve paths for us.”
In the photo above, Assistant Professor of English Sarah Berry works with Lindsey Haun ’13.