Episode Description

Born in 1850, Sarah Loguen found her calling as a child, when she helped her parents and Harriet Tubman bandage the leg of an injured person escaping slavery. When the Civil War ended and Reconstruction opened up opportunities for African Americans, Loguen became one of the first Black women to earn a medical license. But quickly, racist Jim Crow laws prevailed. At the urging of family friend Frederick Douglass, Loguen married and, with her new husband, set sail for the Dominican Republic where more was possible for a person of color. This is her story.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which houses this tintype portrait, thinks this is probably Sarah Loguen Fraser.

Episode Guests:

  • April J. Mayes is the Associate Dean, Professor of History, and Coordinator of Latin American Studies at Pomona College.
  • Meg Vigil-Fowler is a Historian of Race, Gender, and Medicine.
  • Elise DeAndrea is the Archivist & Special Collections Librarian at SUNY Upstate Medical University.

Hosts

  • Katie Hafner
  • Nora Mathison

Producers:

  • Nora Mathison(reporter/producer)
  • Ashraya Gupta(producer)
  • Dominique Janee (associate producer)
  • Barbara Howard(managing senior producer) 

Further reading/listening/viewing:

Episode Transcript

Dr. Sarah Loguen Fraser, an ex-slave’s daughter, becomes a celebrated doctor

April Mayes: This is the 1880s. In the United States, the opportunities are closing down for African Americans and they would be opening up for people in the Dominican Republic.

Katie Hafner: That's historian April Mayes, who's been studying the life of Dr. Sarah Loguen Fraser, one of the first Black female doctors in the United States. 

I'm Katie Hafner, and this is Lost Women of Science. 

Sarah Loguen was born in Syracuse, New York in 1850. Generations of her family had long endured shifting political winds, whipsawed from slavery to freedom.

In the years following the Civil War, Sarah built a thriving medical practice in Washington, D. C. But the promise of reconstruction was being upended by Jim Crow laws, and she decamped for the Dominican Republic. So her story has a twist. Unlike the usual tales of immigrants seeking a better life in America, her story is about emigration, seeking a better life elsewhere.

In 2014, the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D. C. acquired a tintype portrait. The woman in the sepia toned photo from the 1890s appears dark complected. She's wearing a two layer waist length capelet, a full length skirt, and dark gloves.

There's a short top hat perched on her head, and beneath it, her face is expressionless, her light eyes fixed squarely on the camera, and she's holding a medical bag. The tintype is marked by the museum as “unidentified”, but bearing, quote, “a strong resemblance to Dr. Sarah Loguen Fraser.” Producer Nora Mathison, brings us her story.

Nora Mathison: If one moment determined Sarah Loguen Fraser's life trajectory, it might have been this one. She was a young girl when abolitionist Harriet Tubman guided a group that was running from slave catchers to a station of the Underground Railroad in Syracuse, New York. 

The man, two women, and six children all had gunshot wounds to their legs.

The house that took them in belonged to Sarah's parents, the Loguens. Little Sarah, who at the time went by the nickname Tinnie, did what she could. 

April Mayes: Tinnie helped her mother bathe one of the little girls' wounded legs. And for days she felt that she was the most important person in the whole house. 

Nora Mathison: That's Pomona College historian April Mayes, reading from a biography of Sarah Loguen Fraser's life. It says that this was a seminal moment.

April Mayes: “The seed was sown. It would lie fallow for years, then germinate and grow until it finally flowered”, end quote. 

Nora Mathison: The biography is titled “Miss Doc”, the nickname Sarah's patients would later call her. It was written by Sarah's daughter, Gregoria Fraser Goins in the 1930s, but was never finished or published.

But, Howard University in Washington, D.C. has the drafts, and April has been studying them, starting with Sarah's birth. 

April Mayes: She's born in 1850 and I think this is the decade that's so formative in her life. She was born in January of that year and in September the United States Congress passes the Fugitive Slave Act. 

Nora Mathison: The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act allowed federal marshals to track down and capture people who had escaped to quote unquote “free” northern states from slave holding southern states and return them to bondage.

It stripped these so-called fugitive slaves of any legal rights, and anyone who tried to help them could be charged with a federal crime. The act posed a direct threat to Sarah and her family.

April Mayes:  She's the daughter of runaway slave Reverend Jermain Loguen, who was an abolitionist who operated a station of the underground railroad under his house in Syracuse, New York.

Nora Mathison: Syracuse, in upstate New York, was a hotbed of the abolitionist movement, and Jermain Loguen, by then a minister in the AME Zion Church, was known as the King of the Underground Railroad. It's said that the Loguens helped about 1,500 people running from slave catchers, all while Sarah's father risked being sent back into slavery himself. And he was a widely known abolitionist speaker, so he was not hard to track down.

One day in 1860, when Sarah was 10 years old, a letter addressed to her father arrived at the family home in Syracuse. It was from Tennessee. Jermaine Loguen had escaped slavery in Tennessee 26 years earlier. It was from the wife of his former enslaver. After all those years, she was demanding payment for her husband's horse, which Jermain had taken when he'd made his escape decades earlier.

If Jermain didn't send the payment, she was threatening to have him recaptured and sold. 

He responds to her, his letter peppered with the phrase, “Wretched Woman”, and he warns her against sending slave catchers. He writes, “I stand among a free people who, I thank God, sympathize with my rights. And if your emissaries and vendors come here to re-enslave me, I trust my strong and brave friends in the city will be my rescuers and avengers.”

Among those strong and brave friends in and around Syracuse were Harriet Tubman and famed orator Frederick Douglass, who was a close family friend. 

And then there was Jermain's wife, Sarah's mother, Caroline Storum. Caroline was the child of biracial parents. 

The Storums had lived in the area for several generations, and were well connected and well resourced. Sarah's grandparents were noted abolitionists themselves, so Sarah was born with certain advantages. 

April Mayes: A mixed race family, free family, a land owning family, a home owning family, with deep, deep roots and ties in northern New York. 

Nora Mathison: Sarah's parents, Jermain and Caroline, worked side-by-side at their station on the Underground Railroad, protecting escaped slaves, and Sarah witnessed it all.

April Mayes: That's like the first decade of her life

Nora Mathison: In 1861, the Civil War broke out.

April Mayes: There's this tremendous shift in the politics around enslavement in the United States. 

Nora Mathison: With the war raging, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863, but it would take until the end of the war, two years later, and the ratification of the 13th Amendment for slavery to be declared unconstitutional.

Sarah was 15 when the war ended. 

April Mayes: And so she's living at the most, probably pivotal moments of U.S. history in the 19th century. 

Nora Mathison: Both Sarah's parents lived to see the end of slavery, but they died soon after. 

At age 22, Sarah was left in Syracuse to find her own way. In these post war years, the early stages of Reconstruction were marked by rapid change and a concerted effort to expand the rights of Black Americans.

It was at this moment that Sarah found her calling. 

By then, her older sister Amelia had married and moved to Washington, D.C. 

In the spring of 1873, after visiting her, Sarah was waiting to board a train home to Syracuse. 

April Mayes: And while she's at the station, she notices a little boy. Who is running back and forth between the wagons and hanging feed bags around the necks of the horses. And she notices the kid running around doing his little job, getting the pennies that he's earning, when all of a sudden she hears this scream, and she sees this same little child being dragged from under a heavily loaded wagon. And so she runs to the child and she's trying to get help. And she's screaming. Is there anyone who can help him? Basically, is there a doctor in the house? And there was no help. No one came.  

Nora Mathison: Eventually, the station manager came and found someone to take the boy. 

But it seemed to take a really, really long time. And Sarah later said it was excruciating to stand by, unable to do anything. 

April Mayes: And according to Gregoria, it was this moment when her mother decided, and I'm quoting from the text again, "I will never, never see a human being in need of aid and not be able to help." 

Nora Mathison: Just months later Sarah applied and was accepted to the newly established Syracuse University College of Medicine. If getting into med school sounds unusually straightforward for Sarah, that may have had something to do with the time and place. The campus was not far from Seneca Falls where, a quarter century earlier, the first women's rights convention was held. And one of the demands coming out of that convention: More women in the field of medicine. 

Sarah enrolled at age 23 in October of 1873, and the next day there was an item in her local newspaper.

April Mayes: They applaud this as saying, quote, "This is 'women's rights' in the right direction." 

Nora Mathison: Syracuse University had been founded just three years earlier, in 1870, by forward thinking Methodists. The medical school was added a year later.

Elise DeAndrea: So they really came in with this open-minded approach to allowing not just men, but women and people of color right from the very beginning.

Nora Mathison: That's Elise DeAndrea. She's the archivist at SUNY Upstate Medical University. Its medical school used to be part of Syracuse University. 

She says that in Sarah's class of 17 students, Sarah was the only Black person, male or female, but she was not the only woman. 

Elise DeAndrea: In the first six years of the College of Medicine, 11 of the 63 total graduates were women, so around 17%.  

Nora Mathison: Nationwide, the number of women earning medical degrees was growing, and that included Black women. 

Meg Vigil-Fowler: One of the most striking things is just how many there were. 

Nora Mathison: Meg Vigil Fowler is a medical historian with a focus on Black women in medicine. 

Meg Vigil-Fowler: I was very surprised to find, around 180.

Nora Mathison: A decade earlier, no Black women were licensed medical doctors. Sarah was a member of this new and growing cohort, and she did encounter racism. One story involved making rounds at the hospital. A patient in one of the beds, a black woman, shot a question at Sarah about her race.

Here's April reading from the biography. 

April Mayes: ”You're an N-word ain't you?” Tinnie flushed then paled. “I am a colored woman and a doctor.” And the patient responded. "I don't want no colored woman doctoring me."

Nora Mathison: This is actually one of the very few instances of racism mentioned in the biography written by Sarah's daughter. 

April Mayes: Overall Gregoria paints a picture of med school as a pretty positive, affirming place for her mother. So with respect to that, considering the context that we're in, this reconstruction moment, I ask myself if Gregoria the biographer is also making an argument that this was a time, if not of less racism, at least of a certain optimism that then opened up opportunities for people like her mother, or maybe Doc Sarah never told her daughter, never shared those stories with her, or they didn't happen.

Nora Mathison: Sarah Loguen earned her M.D. in the spring of 1876, the first black woman to get an M.D. from a co-educational institution. She was now Dr. Sarah Loguen. She then took on not one, but two internships. In one of them, Sarah found herself working alongside another female doctor, who was also an intern, a white woman. 

Meg Vigil-Fowler: And, people kept commenting on how much they looked alike

Nora Mathison: The white woman's name was Dr. Logue.  

Meg Vigil-Fowler: They eventually put it together that Dr. Logue's family had been enslavers of Sarah's dad and grandmother.

Nora Mathison: And the reason the two women looked so similar was that they were probably related. 

Sarah's father, Jermain Loguen, had changed his name when he escaped slavery, adding the N to Logue. L-O-G-U-E. His enslaver, David Logue, was almost certainly his father. 

Soon after that, Dr. Logue, the white doctor, left the internship. 

Sarah, on the other hand, stayed on. 

After completing her clinical training, she moved to Washington D.C. in 1879 and opened a private practice. 

She was among friends. Frederick Douglass now lived nearby, and he took on the role of surrogate parent to Sarah. When Sarah set up her new office, it was Douglass himself who nailed up the shingle. 

And Douglass was no longer just a friend of the family. By now, he literally was family. 

Sarah's sister, living in D. C., had married his son, Lewis Douglass. 

Sarah was now seeing patients, with close friends and family nearby. 

Reconstruction after the Civil War had removed certain obstacles for black Americans, like Sarah, to rise to positions of power and influence.

There had been a surge in Black elected officials and greater representation in civic life. Frederick Douglass' youngest son, Charles Douglass, had been living in the Dominican Republic as Vice Consul of the United States, and it was Charles who was about to make an introduction that would again change the course of Sarah's life.

We’ll be right back.

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Dominique Janee: You're listening to Lost Women of Science. I'm Associate Producer Dominique Janee. If you're enjoying this episode, you'll find more on our website at lostwomenofscience. org. Our livelihood depends largely on the generosity of listeners like you. If you'd like to help us snatch important female scientists from the jaws of historical obscurity, just click the donate tab in the top right corner on our website. That’s lostwomenofscience-dot-org. 

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April Mayes: How does she end up in the Dominican Republic? This is a fascinating story.

Nora Mathison: That's Pomona College history professor, April Mayes, who's an expert on the Dominican Republic. 

April Mayes: You have to have really good friends who are just kind of nosy and in your business. That's how she ends up there.

Nora Mathison: Those really good friends were, of course, the family of Frederick Douglass, particularly his youngest son, Charles, who had been serving as Vice Consul of the U.S., living in the Dominican Republic. 

April Mayes: And he's meeting people, he's meeting a lot of people. And one of the people that he meets and becomes really good friends with is Charles Fraser. 

Charles Fraser is a chemist. This is what they call pharmacists, in the 19th century, who's an immigrant from St. Thomas, Danish Virgin Islands. Charles Fraser is biracial himself.

Nora Mathison: So the two Charles's, Fraser and Douglass, were good friends. 

April Mayes: And Charles Douglass basically is like the best wingman ever.

Nora Mathison: In 1876, Charles Fraser, who lived in Puerto Plata, was planning a trip to the U.S. to stock up on pharmaceutical supplies.

April Mayes: Charles Douglass tells Charles Fraser, his buddy, Hey, quote, "Be sure to meet Dr. Sarah Loguen. She's one of the pioneers of her race. We call her Tinnie."  

Nora Mathison: Charles arrived in America and tried to go see her, but Sarah was busy with work and never showed up. So Charles returned to Puerto Plata, we imagine, disappointed. He'd only traveled 1,400 miles on a ship to meet this woman. But lucky for him, back in the U.S., the Douglasses kept telling Sarah what a great guy this Charles Fraser is.

April Mayes: So she writes this note of regret to him.

Nora Mathison: And they start writing letters back and forth between Washington, D. C. and Puerto Plata. And this goes on and on and on for years. Then, in 1881: 

April Mayes: She receives a letter from Charles Fraser proposing marriage, and she kind of freaks out.

Nora Mathison: Which makes sense. First of all, they barely know each other. Second, she's trying to build this thriving medical practice in D.C. And Charles?  He lives in the Caribbean.

April Mayes: She doesn't respond to Charles until he is already on his way back later in the early fall. 

Nora Mathison: And she doesn't exactly say ‘yes’ to his proposal. Not right away. She needs a little convincing, and according to her daughter Gregoria, who better to deliver a convincing argument than the famously persuasive orator himself? 

April Mayes: Frederick Douglass tells her, “The Dominican Republic is where you can do your best work.”

Nora Mathison: What could stand in the way of Sarah doing her best work? By this time, the early 1880s, Reconstruction in the U.S. is on the wane, and Jim Crow is on the rise. The earth is rapidly shifting under the feet of Black Americans.

Frederick Douglass believed Sarah's prospects were better in the Dominican Republic. 

Sarah finally did make the call, but not until a week before she married Charles Fraser in Syracuse on September 19th, 1882.

At around the time the newlyweds were setting sail for a new life together in the Dominican Republic, Frederick Douglass wrote again to Sarah. ​

April Mayes: He is supposed to have told her quote, "The life there is very different from what it is here. There you feel the full stature of manhood." 

Nora Mathison: What does that mean? 

April Mayes: The Dominican Republic in the last quarter of the 19th century is undergoing tremendous change.

Nora Mathison:  The country had just been through a war. It had won its independence from Haiti in 1844, but in the early 1860s, Spain occupied the country. Dominican nationalists fought back and won their sovereignty. 

April Mayes: And in that post-war moment, there is this period of national consolidation, right. There's railroad building. There's investment in technology. Telegraph lines come in. 

Nora Mathison: Like the U.S. during its brief reconstruction era after the Civil War, the Dominican Republic in the 1870s and 80s was also trying to repair and reinvent itself.

Unlike the United States, though, the Dominican Republic had abolished slavery back in 1822. That's more than 40 years before the U.S. did. 

Plus, after winning its own independence, there was a lot of unrest on the islands all around the Dominican Republic, which meant that the Frasers found themselves among political exiles coming from those neighboring countries when they arrived in Puerto Plata in October of 1882. 

April Mayes: It's a place where on the streets, you could hear Spanish, but also English, French, Haitian Creole. Danish spoken, and no one would blink an eye. And so in a sense, the Frasers were one among a number of people who were new, who were establishing themselves in Puerto Plata, and they become part of a group of these aspiring immigrants.

Nora Mathison: Charles went back to work at his pharmacy on a busy street in town. But for Sarah, who had left her medical practice behind, there was one big problem. 

April Mayes: When she moves to Puerto Plata she's not yet speaking Spanish. So the first thing is she's got to learn to speak Spanish. 

Nora Mathison: Luckily, Sarah had a connection to a man, a man of the cloth. 

April Mayes: Padre Fernando Arturo Merino, who is a forward thinking progressive Catholic Bishop… 

Nora Mathison: …who offered to help her with Spanish lessons. Padre Merino had just wrapped up two years as President of the Dominican Republic when Sarah arrived.

April Mayes: And it's him, Padre Merino, who encourages her to practice telling her, “Hey, you are the first woman doctor I've ever met, and now you're here, and you should practice.”

Nora Mathison: April says Father Merino was probably acting on his politics here as a member of the National Liberals, the dominant political party at the time. The National Liberals were all about modernizing. 

April Mayes: Part of what it means to be a progressive interested in modernizing the Dominican Republic, is supporting women's education.

Nora Mathison: Women's education and the idea of modern medicine. 

April Mayes: “We need more professional, trained, educated people now we're going to call doctors instead of the curanderas and the curanderos.” 

Nora Mathison: Curanderas meaning healers. So in Sarah, Father Merino saw an opportunity. 

April Mayes: So with Doc Sarah, he got a two-fer right? He's in a win-win situation, he's got someone with training with certificates, who's a professional, who's a scientist, right? Who's a doctor, and he's got a woman. 

Nora Mathison: And he taught her not just conversational Spanish, but the technical Spanish needed to pass the medical exam.

Less than a year after arriving in the Dominican Republic, in the spring of 1883, Sarah took her medical exams in Spanish, and she passed. She was given a certificate authorizing her to treat women and children. 

It was so unprecedented to have a woman practicing medicine, that the Congress of the Dominican Republic actually had to pass a rule stating that she, Sarah specifically, not all women, was allowed to practice there.

And when Congress made that exception, Doctor Sarah Loguen Fraser became the first woman licensed to practice medicine in the Dominican Republic.

Keep in mind that within about a year, she left her medical practice in Washington, D.C., got married, moved to the Dominican Republic, learned Spanish, passed exams in Spanish to get her Dominican medical license. Oh, and she had a baby, but we'll get to that. 

It's clear she was driven, but there were other things at play that set Sarah apart from other women aspiring to medicine. Certainly connections like the Douglass family didn't hurt. After all, she had a former president tutoring her. 

April Mayes: We're talking about a family that is at the upper echelon of Puerto Plata society. Charles makes friends with the most important political people of the period.

Nora Mathison: But April says it wasn't just the connections. Something else was at play. 

April Mayes: Neither Charles, nor Doc Sarah would necessarily be considered Black in the Dominican Republic. 

Nora Mathison: Remember, Sarah, from a multiracial family, is described as having light skin.

And her husband, Charles Fraser, you'll recall, is also biracial. 

April Mayes: In the Dominican Republic, which is a country of majority African descended, they're not dark skinned people. They're biracial or mixed race people. It places them higher in the social hierarchy than would be possible elsewhere, say like in the United States.

Nora Mathison: In the U.S., the “one drop rule” meant that a person was considered Black if they had any Black ancestry. All Black people were, by custom and law, subjected to anti black racism. But now, in the Dominican Republic, historian April Mayes suspects that being biracial did affect Sarah's status. It gave her certain privileges. 

With her new license in hand, Sarah started practicing medicine.

Because she was restricted to treating women and children, her specialty was pediatrics and obstetrics with a focus on labor and delivery. 

April Mayes: Birth was dangerous. I mean, the closest to death that many women would ever get to was during birth and delivery.

Nora Mathison: And Sarah saw the danger firsthand, according to her daughter.

April Mayes: One time a neighbor was giving birth and the child's legs were coming first. So it was a breech birth. And Doc Sarah stayed with that woman for two days. And as the way that Gregoria describes it, put the leg back in, turned the baby's body. So the head came out first, both child and mother survived. 

Nora Mathison: And Sarah didn't just witness difficult births. She delivered her daughter, Gregoria, in December of 1883. 

April Mayes: And her birth experience was so horrible, and what happened to her physically was so bad, that she lost the ability to have any more children.

Nora Mathison: After that, according to Gregoria, Sarah worked to ensure that other women wouldn't have to endure anything like her childbirth experience.

So Sarah lived and worked in Puerto Plata for the next decade, treating women and children and raising Gregoria. By all accounts, as a licensed doctor trained in the latest techniques in the United States, she was highly respected. 

Then, on September 28th, 1894, her husband, age 58, had a stroke. He died two days later. Sarah, age 44, grieved not just for Charles, but for the end of childhood for their daughter, 10 year old Gregoria. 

Sarah gave up her practice, and for a while, she ran Charles’ pharmacy. And though she'd spent a decade building a life in the Dominican Republic, in 1897, Sarah and her daughter moved back to Washington, D.C. to be near family, and to get the now teenaged Gregoria a better education.

April Mayes: But when she comes back to the United States, Gregoria faces an entirely different racial landscape than her mother did.

Nora Mathison: Just before Sarah and Gregoria returned, the U.S. Supreme Court formally legalized segregation with Plessy v. Ferguson. The doctrine of Separate but Equal was now officially the law of the land. 

April Mayes: By the early 1900s, we are at a moment of heightened racist terrorism against African Americans, particularly in the south.

Nora Mathison: Sarah, who had reaped the benefits of American higher education, now had a hard time finding quality schooling for her daughter.

With few options under Separate but Equal, she sent Gregoria to boarding school in France, something only a privileged few could afford. 

Sarah herself also struggled. She had some success as a private practitioner, but couldn't get traction when she looked for work within institutions. And she was multilingual, with nearly two decades of experience and two medical degrees.

Finally, 14 years after the death of Charles, things seemed to be turning around. 

April Mayes: In 1908, she obtained a government appointment to be the resident physician at Blue Plains Industrial School for Boys in Southeastern D.C. 

However, when she arrived, they changed her job description, and she ended up serving more as a matron to 14 boys, which meant that she spent her days cooking, cleaning, washing, and ironing. And, it didn't take long for Gregoria to show up and rescue her mother from that work.

Nora Mathison: In 1911, Sarah bought a house in D.C. She likely paid for it with pharmacy earnings, as well as the proceeds from the sale of Fraser family properties. 

Gregoria, then in her mid 30s, soon moved in with her mother.

When Gregoria married John Goins in 1917, he joined them, too. Gregoria says that her mother loved John, and the family seems to have lived happily there for years. 

Towards the end of Dr. Sarah Loguen Fraser's life, she finally did get some recognition.

One account says that In 1926, on the 50th anniversary of Sarah’s own medical school graduation, Howard University invited her as a guest of honor at their alumni dinner. By then, she was in her mid 70s, and had dedicated over 30 years to practicing medicine. She was not a Howard alum, but the school recognized and honored her accomplishments as part of a cohort of Black female doctors who shifted people's thinking.

Here again is medical historian Meg Vigil Fowler. 

Meg Vigil-Fowler: In an era when, there's all these ideas that sort of Black people and women are not fit for intellectual work, just their presence really challenges those ideas. And, even though their numbers are few, anytime a patient went to them, they saw an example of a Black woman physician.

Nora Mathison: It's hard to know whether Dr. Sarah Loguen Fraser viewed herself as an inspiring role model or even as a pioneering physician. But for Sarah, this career helping black women and children was just the kind of work she had set her mind to years ago, ever since seeing that young boy at the train station under a wagon wheel and being unable to help.

In her journal, she wrote, “To have those of my race come to me for aid, and for me to be able to give it, will be all the heaven I want.”

By the late 1920s, Sarah had developed kidney disease and severe memory loss. With her daughter Gregoria at her side, she died in 1933 at the age of 83. But the story doesn't end there.

Dr. Sarah Loguen Fraser may not have been a household name in the United States at the time of her death, but when word reached Puerto Plata, there was deep mourning. 

April Mayes: For nine days, flags in the city were flown at half mast and a high mass was held for her at the Catholic church in Puerto Plata itself.

Nora Mathison: Later, her daughter, Gregoria, started putting pen to paper to document her mother's life. In 1939, she went back to Puerto Plata and was overwhelmed by the number of people who remembered her mother. Gregoria writes:

April Mayes: “I spent 10 months in Puerto Plata, and not a week passed that someone did not come bringing gifts of flowers, fruits, sweetmeats, the donors saying, “Your mother operated on my daughter and she was made well.” “I would've had consumption, but your mother taught my mother what to do.” Or, “Your mother treated my father and took no pay. I still appreciate her kindness.”

Nora Mathison: Looking back to the tintype portrait thought to be Sarah, described at the very start of the episode – the woman in a cape holding a doctor's bag – there's really no way to know for sure whether it is Sarah. But that tintype stands as a testament, not just to the life of Dr. Sarah Loguen Fraser, but to this small cohort of Black women who, in a fortuitous moment in history, became doctors just after the Civil War. Their contributions rippled through the medical field in ways we'll never fully know. 

I’m Nora Mathison.

Katie Hafner: Nora Mathison produced this episode, for Lost Women of Science, along with producer Ashraya Gupta, Managing Senior Producer Barbara Howard, and Associate Producer Dominique Janee.

We’d like to thank April Mayes, Meg Vigil-Fowler, Elise DeAndrea and Doctor Gertrude Fraser for helping us with research.

Our audio engineer is Hansdale Hsu and Lizzie Younan composes our music.

Thanks as always to Amy Scharf and Jeff DelViscio.

We are funded in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and Schmidt Futures.

Lost Women of Science is distributed by PRX and published in partnership with Scientific American.

If you'd like to hear more stories like these, go to our website, Lost Women of Science.org, where you will also find the all-important "Donate" button.

Thanks for listening! I'm Katie Hafner.

Katie Hafner

Host & Executive Producer

Katie Hafner was a longtime reporter for The New York Times, where she continues to be a frequent contributor. Katie is uniquely positioned to tell the stories of lost women of science. Not only does she bring a skilled hand to complex narratives, but she has been writing about women in STEM for nearly 30 years. She is the author of six books of non-fiction, and her first novel, The Boys, was published in July 2022 by Spiegel & Grau. Katie is also the host and executive producer of Our Mothers Ourselves, an interview podcast that celebrates extraordinary mothers.

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