Final Public Oral Exam: Ezelle Sanford III

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
June 18, 2019 - 1:00pm
Seminar Series: 
Final Public Oral Exam

A Source of Pride, a Vision of Progress: The Homer G. Phillips Hospital of St. Louis, MO (1937-1979)


Keith Wailoo, adviser
Joshua Guild
Alison Isenberg
George Lipsitz, UC Santa Barbara


This dissertation documents and contextualizes the history of Homer G. Phillips Hospital (1937-1979), a segregated African American municipal teaching hospital located in St. Louis's historic Ville neighborhood. A hard-won political concession in the Progressive era turned New Deal project, Homer G. emerged in the mid-twentieth century as the nation's largest segregated hospital. It provided health care for Black St. Louisans while training many medical specialists, nurses, and allied health professionals. By the time of its closure in 1979, however, the facility's infrastructure and quality of care had significantly declined. Yet hundreds unsuccessfully mobilized to protect the hospital. After its closure, Homer G. became the face of the nation's Black and public hospital closing crisis.

Employing extensive archival, oral historical, and informal ethnographic research, this project is the first scholarly project documenting Homer G.'s history. More than institutional history, this dissertation excavates the hospital as a case study tracing the largely understudied transition from segregated to desegregated health facilities. Contrary to the broad civil rights agenda to expand access to public accomodations, this transition left many Black communities without the hospitals in which they took so much pride. This project extends the work of David Barton Smith and Vanessa Gamble, by centering African Americans in the developing political economy of health care as we understand it today.

Ultimately, the dissertation analyzes the history of segregation from a new perspective, that of American health care, recasting it as a history of contradictions and paradoxes. This study of the uneven implementation, duration, and heavy-handed eradication of segregated health care elucidates how Black community members, White municipal leaders, and medical professionals of both races negotiated the complex terrain of racial segregation where the stakes were high. Lives and the overall health of Black St. Louisans lay on the line. These actors made complicated, often contradictory, claims which prioritized short-term gains over long-term efforts for equality.

This project traces four key themes: segregation and American medical education; memory and legacy formation; health and municipal politics; and hospitals and African American communities. It engages with and contributes to twentieth-century history of medicine, African American, and urban histories.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam in the History Graduate Student Lounge: 105 Dickinson Hall.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Area of Interest: 
African American
History of Technology
Medicine & Health
Race & Ethnicity
Social History
Urban History
North America
19th Century
20th Century
21st Century