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Dr. Helen Nash Broke Racial Barriers at Wash U

The pioneering doctor, who was the only woman admitted with the first four African American doctors at Washington University, died last week.

Dr. Helen Nash, the first African American on the staff of St. Louis Children's Hospital and only woman among the first four African-American physicians invited to join the staff of Washington University School of Medicine, died Oct. 4, 2012.

She was 91 and lived in the Creve Coeur area.

Dr. Nash came to St. Louis to train in pediatrics at the old Homer G. Phillips Hospital according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. At the time, it was the only teaching hospital in St. Louis open to African-American physicians.

The daughter of a doctor, she came to St. Louis from Atlanta. Dr. Nash was a graduate of Spelman College. She graduated from Meharry Medical College in Nashville in 1945, according to the Bernard Becker Medical Library at Washington University

She joined the Washington University School of Medicine and Children's Hospital in 1949. 

Dr. Nash was an advocate for children, pushing the city to put money in rat eradication and clear junkyards of batteries leaking lead, the Post reports. She also pioneered, along with her mentor, the idea of putting babies in their own bassinets at the hospital.

That led to a dramatic decrease in infections, Dr. Will Ross, associate professor at Washington University, told the Post. "It sounds pretty basic but it was quite a remarkable feat at the time," Ross said.

Nash served for over 40 years on the clinical faculty of Washington University School of Medicine and on the attending staff at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. She retired as professor emeritus (clinical) of Pediatrics in 1993.

According to the Becker Library, Nash served as the medical school’s dean of Minority Affairs from 1994 to 1996.

Since 1996, Washington University School of Medicine has bestowed the Dr. Helen E. Nash Academic Achievement Award to a student who has exhibited to an unusual degree the qualities of industry, perseverance, determination, and enthusiasm.

Dr. Nash married James Abernathy in 1964. He died in 1980. Among her survivors are a brother, Dr. Homer Nash of Olivette; and a sister, Dorothy Shack of Oakland, CA.

To view a complete obituary, click here.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Oct. 27 at All Saints Episcopal Church, 5010 Terry Avenue. Her body will be cremated.

michelle shrode November 13, 2012 at 12:29 AM
It is gratifying to know that such a woman pioneer made such a difference to, I'm sure, so many people, and that she has been recognized for her accomplishments. It makes me wish I had known her. I'm sure she will be sorely missed.

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