Meet Dr. Myra Adele Logan (1908 – 1977), a pioneering surgeon whose life and work were marked by her historic firsts, life-saving research, and selfless humanitarianism. She is yet another inspiring woman we never learned about in school, which is truly dumbfounding given all her medical and civic achievements. Here’s the long overdue history lesson we wish we had gotten…

Myra was born in 1908 in Tuskegee, Alabama, the eighth child of Warren and Adella Hunt Logan. Her father was the treasurer of Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute and her mother, a noted suffragist and health care activist, had a college degree – rare for a woman of that time, especially a black woman. Her parents held education and optimism in the highest regard, neither of which were lost on Myra.

“The world would not be dictated by one race or gender.” – Dr. Myra Adele Logan

In 1927, she was valedictorian of her graduating class at Atlanta University and went on to earn an MS in psychology from Columbia University. In her first of many firsts, Myra then became the inaugural recipient of the Walter Gray Crump Scholarship for Young Women, which landed her a $10,000 four-year scholarship to attend New York Medical College. After graduating from medical school in 1933, she began her internship at Harlem Hospital, where she worked in the emergency room.

In 1943, when open-heart surgery was still in its infancy, Myra, then an associate surgeon, became the first woman to operate on a human heart in only the ninth such operation of its kind anywhere in the world.

Throughout her career Myra studied new antibiotic drugs, and in the 1960’s she researched early detection and treatment for breast cancer, specifically developing a more accurate x-ray process that could detect differences in the density of tissue and discover tumors earlier. Her research saved countless lives.

She was also a charter member of one of the first group practices in the nation, the Upper Manhattan Medical Group of the Health Insurance Plan, a concept that housed physicians of various specialties under one roof… the norm today, but revolutionary at the time.

Myra, who practiced medicine to serve, rather than simply to earn a paycheck, also found the time to address the needs of her community in other ways. She worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Planned Parenthood, and the New York State Fair Employment Practices Committee, among other organizations. After her retirement in 1970, she served on the New York State Workmen’s Compensation Board. She was known for encouraging people to walk tall and proud, and be who they wanted to be.

Myra’s myriad of medical and civic achievements led to her election to the American College of Surgeons. She was the first black woman to earn this honor.

Dr. Myra Adele Logan died on January 13, 1977 of lung cancer at the age of 68.

Photo Credit: Louis T. Wright and colleagues at patient bedside, Harlem Hospital, New York, N.Y. From left to right: Dr. Lyndon M. Hill, Dr. Louis T. Wright, Dr. Myra Logan, Dr. Aaron Prigot, unidentified African American woman patient, and unidentified hospital employee; WikiMedia Commons, under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Sources: Library of Congress – Notable Women In Science Knowledge Cards, Authored & Created By Aimee Hess; Journal of the National Medical Association