Lawrence, Margaret

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Lawrence, Margaret

August 19, 1914

Physician Margaret Cornelia Morgan was born in New York City because her mother, Mary Elizabeth Morgan, a teacher, had traveled there in search of the better medical care available to black people in the North. Margaret's father, Sandy Alonzo Morgan, was an Episcopal minister, and the family followed him as he answered calls to minister in Portsmouth, Virginia; New Bern, North Carolina; Widewater, Virginia; and Mound Bayou, Mississippi, before settling in Vicksburg, Mississippi, when Margaret was seven. Certain at a young age that she wanted to be a doctor, Morgan persuaded her parents to allow her to live with relatives in New York City to take advantage of the better educational opportunities there. She attended Wadleigh High School for Girls in New York City and entered Cornell University with a full scholarship in 1932. She was the only African-American undergraduate studying there at the time. Barred from the Cornell dormitories because of her race, she boarded as a live-in maid to a white family. Although her grades and entrance examinations were more than satisfactory, Cornell Medical School refused her admission because she was black. She enrolled in Columbia University, where she earned her M.D. in 1940, and served her medical internship and residency at Harlem Hospital. In 1943 she received an M.S. in Public Health from Columbia. That year she moved with her husband, sociologist Charles Radford Lawrence II, and their baby son to Nashville, where she became a professor at Meharry Medical College.

While in Nashville, Lawrence gave birth to two daughters eighteen months apart, created a Well-Baby Clinic in East Nashville, and maintained a private pediatric practice at home. In 1947, the Lawrence family returned to New York, and Lawrence attended Columbia University's Psychiatric Institute. She was the first African-American trainee at the Columbia Psychoanalytic Clinic for Training and Research, from which she received a Certificate in Psychoanalysis in 1951. That year she moved with her family to Rockland County, New York, where she organized the Community Mental Health Center and had a private psychiatric practice. From 1963 until her retirement in 1984, Lawrence served as a child psychiatrist at Harlem Hospital, directing its Developmental Psychiatry Clinic, and an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Lawrence, one of the first black women psychiatrists in the nation, published two books on child psychiatry, The Mental Health Team in Schools (1971) and Young Inner City Families (1975). She was a Julius Rosenwald Fellow (19421943) and a National Institute of Mental Health Fellow (19481950). In 1991 her pioneering work developing the "ego-strength" of disadvantaged children was recognized as she received the Camille Cosby World of Children Award. In 1988 Lawrence's achievements were celebrated in an award-winning biography, Balm in Gilead: Journey of a Healer, written by her daughter, Sara Lawrence Lightfoot, a professor of education at Harvard University. In 2003 Lawrence received an honorary doctorate from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.

See also Psychology and Psychologists: Race Issues; Social Psychology, Psychologists, and Race


Christy, Marian. "Dr. Margaret Lawrence: Overcoming All Odds." Boston Globe, October 23, 1991, p. 71.

Lightfoot, Sara Lawrence. Balm in Gilead: Journey of a Healer. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1988.

"Margaret Cornelia Morgan Lawrence." In Notable Black American Scientists. Detroit: Gale, 1998.

sabrina fuchs (1996)

lydia mcneill (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

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Lawrence, Margaret

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