Oral Histories from the Archives: Dr. Jean Spaulding

composite photograph of Dr. Jean SpauldingIn honor of Black History Month, our blog this week features Dr. Jean Spaulding, the first African American woman to graduate from Duke’s School of Medicine in 1972. 

Although born in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Spaulding grew up in Highland Park, Michigan, just outside of Detroit. She moved back to the South in order to attend Duke University’s School of Medicine. When she received her MD in 1972, she became the first African American woman to graduate from Duke University’s School of Medicine. Dr. Spaulding stayed at Duke to complete her fellowship and residency in psychiatry. In 1977, she opened a private psychiatry practice in Durham, North Carolina. She also worked as a clinical consultant in child psychiatry at Duke from 1977 to 1990. Among other professional roles she has held at Duke, Dr. Spaulding served as Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs from 1998 to 2002 and became a member of the Duke Endowment committee in 2002.  

The Medical Center Archives has an oral history interview conducted with Dr. Spaulding on October 3, 2006. In this interview, Dr. Spaulding recounts the experiences and scrutiny she faced as the only minority and a woman in the program. For Dr. Spaulding, “there was no fading into the woodwork at all.” “It was a matter of toughing it out, and there were no other individuals who were having the same experience.” As Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, Dr. Spaulding worked to develop initiatives for female faculty members and to increase the numbers of underrepresented minority students and minority faculty. Dr. Spaulding recalls that Dr. Snyderman (the Chancellor for Health Affairs) gave her an opportunity to examine Duke “not from the eyes and the perspective of the traditional hospital administrator, but from the perspective of what needs to change here.” Thus, Dr. Spaulding was able to use her position to advocate for greater representation and opportunities for underrepresented students and faculty. 

To hear more about Dr. Spaulding’s experiences in her own words, please see the “Women in Duke Medicine” online oral history exhibit or contact the Archives. To discover more archival resources related to African Americans at Duke Medicine, visit our subject guide.

This blog post was contributed by Archives Intern Alex Dowrey.

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