Dr. Lucy Oxley

Dr. Lucy Oxley, the first African American woman to earn an MD from the University of Cincinnati medical school (1935), ran her practice in Walnut Hills. She helped to found what became the Academy of Family Physicians in 1947-48 and served on the Ohio State Board of Medical Examiners beginning in 1980, and was named Family Physician of the Year in 1984, the first woman to receive that honor.
Dr. Oxley’s mother was a teacher, her father an Episcopal priest originally from Trinidad. He earned a doctorate in divinity from Harvard and moved to Cincinnati as rector of St. Andrew Episcopal Church in the West End in 1915, when Lucy was three years old. She graduated from Woodward High School at sixteen, and attended the University of Cincinnati as a pre-medical student. In part through the influence of her Father, Lucy was the first African American woman admitted to UC Medical School; she finished near the top of her class in 1935.
In a remarkable video interview in 1984, Lucy Oxley talked with two other doctors about her experiences at UC and in her many years of medical practice. Both had been her classmates at Woodward, then during their undergraduate years at UC and finally in medical school. The two were both Jewish men, themselves the object of anti-Semitic prejudice in the 1920’s and ‘30’s. The interviewers, along with another Woodward and UC graduate, had been lab partners with Lucy in anatomy and biochemistry labs. They recalled an incident where another student had walked past their table muttering “Nigger Lovers”, and the ensuing argument almost came to blows.
The interview also recounted how Lucy Oxley, as one of the top 15 students in her medical class, had earned a prized internship at Cincinnati General Hospital. She was the only one in her class to take and pass the national medical boards. Shortly before the internship was to begin, she went to speak with the supervisor at General Hospital, and he told her “You are a Negro. We don’t want you.” The interviewer in 1984 still recalled the incident with outrage and indignation. Lucy’s father was able to arrange a residency at Washington DC’s African American Howard University. When she returned to Cincinnati, she was unable to get admitting privileges at any of the city’s hospitals, and worked in college student health services and as a cancer researcher. The 1984 interview also touched on the difficulties Black doctors had had – and continued to have – gaining positions on hospital staffs in Cincinnati.
Dr. Lucy Oxley eventually opened a private practice in Walnut Hills; in 1958 she built a medical building on Dexter Avenue. She and her colleagues recalled how, in the late ‘40’s and ‘50’s, medical specialists increasingly dominated hospital medicine. Oxley realized that while most doctors had private practices, without constant interaction in hospital settings they were liable to fall behind advances and developments in the fast-changing field. Oxley recalled her early partners in 1947. “They came to my house one Sunday morning and enjoyed my step mother’s home made biscuits … but the thing that worried me, I felt that we should have professionals from school keeping us up to date. That’s what started the idea of continuing medical education. And this is the home, Cincinnati is the home of family medicine. I have a plaque in my office that says the Ohio Academy of General Practitioners, that’s what started. That was the first one. We had five seminars for $35. … It’s still the American Academy of Family Physicians.” Her interviewer said “It started right in your house.”