Myra A. Logan Biography (1908-1977)

African American
physician, surgeon

Myra A. Logan fulfilled the image of the selfless, humanitarian doctor, practicing medicine to serve the community rather than simply to earn money. An urbane, modest person who never lost sight of her civic responsibilities, she is thought to be the first African American woman elected a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, and was the first woman to perform open heart surgery. Additionally, her research on antibiotics and breast cancersaved countless lives.

Myra Adele Logan was born in 1908 in Tuskegee, Alabama, the eighth child of Warren and Adella Hunt Logan. She enjoyed a relatively privileged upbringing,for her father was a trustee and treasurer of the prestigious Tuskegee Institute and her mother was a noted activist in health care and the suffrage movement. Booker T. Washington was a neighbor. Education and optimism were in theair of the Logan household, as was an interest in health care: in addition toher mother, Logan also had an aunt and sister who were or became involved inhealth matters, and her brother, Arthur, as well as a brother-in-law, was aphysician. Logan attended Atlanta University in Georgia, graduating with a B.A. in 1927 as valedictorian of her class. She went north for graduate studies, taking her M.S. in psychology from Columbia University in New York. After working for a time on a YWCA staff in Connecticut, Logan finally made up her mind to study medicine, winning the first Walter Gray Crump $10,000 four-yearscholarship to New York Medical College. She graduated in 1933 and interned as well as served her residency at Harlem Hospital in New York.

Her years at Harlem Hospital in the emergency room and riding ambulance as ayoung internee prepared Logan well for her future career in surgery. She notonly delivered babies on the way to the hospital, but also repaired numerousstab wounds to the heart. Remaining at Harlem Hospital, she became an associate surgeon there, and was also a visiting surgeon at Sydenham Hospital. In 1943 she became the first woman to perform open heart surgery, in the ninth operation of its kind anywhere in the world. She also became interested in the then-new antibiotic drugs, researching aureomycin and other drugs and publishing her results in Archives of Surgery and Journal of American Medical Surgery. In the 1960s, Logan began to work on breast cancer, developing a slower x-ray process that could detect more accurately differences inthe density of tissue and thus help discover tumors much earlier. In addition to maintaining a private practice, she was also a charter member of one ofthe first group practices in the nation, the Upper Manhattan Medical Group ofthe Health Insurance Plan, a concept that houses physicians of various specialties under one roof and that is the norm today.

Logan found time in her busy schedule to stay committed to social issues. Early in her career, she was a member of the New York State Committee on Discrimination, but resigned in protest in 1944 when Governor Dewey ignored the anti-discrimination legislation the committee had proposed. She was also active in Planned Parenthood as well as the National Association for the Advancementof Colored People (NAACP), and after her retirement in 1970 she served on theNew York State Workmen's Compensation Board. Her myriad medical and civic achievements led to her election to the American College of Surgeons.

Logan married the well known painter Charles Alston in 1943. The couple had no children, devoting their lives to professional pursuits. She was a lover ofmusic and a fine classical pianist. She also enjoyed the theater and reading. Myra Adele Logan died at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York on January 13, 1977, of lung cancer at the age of 68. Her husband, Charles Alston, died only afew months later.

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