In tribute | First African-American psychoanalyst, Margaret Lawrence dies at 105

National Institutes of Health (NIH) photo archives. –

The New York Times reports that Columbia alum Dr. Margaret Lawrence died on 4 December 2019. Though not defined by the discrimination she faced, the obituary notes that despite being a Cornell pre-med graduate, she was denied entrance to the Cornell’s medical school.

Dr. Lawrence, “absorbed the shock, then applied to Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. She was accepted, on the condition that she would not protest if white patients refused to be seen by her. (None did.) She agreed, and became the only black student in her class of 104, graduating in 1940.

She would still face discrimination, often being mistaken for a cleaning lady. But she went on to be a renowned pediatrician and child psychiatrist and the first African-American woman to become a psychoanalyst in the United States…”

In this 1991 oral history clip, Dr. Lawrence discusses how racist discrimination amongst psychoanalytic practitioners failed to recognize that black children and families had “sufficient ego strength” to use and benefit from psychoanalytic tools.

She also notes the ways class assumptions about people living in poverty meant that they didn’t receive supportive therapy, or what we might consider today a “wrap around” therapeutic approach. Dr. Lawrence also speaks to her work in helping black children develop ego strength.


The Columbia Center for Oral History interviewed Dr. Lawrence as part of the Northside Center for Child Development project. Dr. Lawrence was a student of Dr.Benjamin Spock and did pioneering work with children and young families in Harlem.

This clip is part of a longer interview available on-site in Columbia University Libraries’ Oral History Archives at Columbia in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library.