Dr. May Edward Chinn

Dr. May Edward Chinn was the first African American woman to graduate from Bellevue Hospital Medical College and was advocate for poor patients. She was born in MA but grew up in New York City. Her father was a former slave and her mother was Chickahominy. Though she dropped out of high school, she earned a BS (1921) in Science from Columbia University Teacher’s College and her MD (1926) from Bellevue Hospital (now NYU School of Medicine). After graduation she became the first African American woman to intern at Harlem Hospital, first to be granted hospital privileges at Harlem Hospital (which only served white people at the time), and first woman of any race to respond to ambulance emergency crews. She also earned a MS (1933) from Columbia as she saw issues with cancer that impacted older African American patients.

Due to her fair skin and racially ambiguous last name, some thought she was Asian. However, the discovery of her background caused her to face many discriminatory practices that limited her career. She opened her own clinic and focused on cancer screenings. Going with patients to their doctors’ appointments, acting as their family physician, is what drove her to obtain her MPH. Upon completion she worked with the inventor of the Pap Smear. Later she worked at the Strang Cancer Clinic for the rest of her career and promoted routine pap smears, cancer early detection, and family histories for cancer risk prediction.

Dr. Chinn earned membership in the New York Academy of Sciences (1954), received a citation from the NY Cancer Committee of the American Cancer Society (1957), and received an honorary Doctor of Science (1980) from Columbia University. Throughout her life she was dedicated to civil rights. She campaigned for women’s suffrage, was a founder of the Susan Smith McKinney Steward Medical Society, and joined the Phelps-Stokes Fund that helped African students study medicine in the U.S. She was also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. She retired in 1974 and passed away in 1980 at the age of 84.


  1. https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_61.html
  2. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/chinn-may-edward-1896-1980/ 
  3. https://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/publications/alumni-magazine/fall-2021-winter-2022/features2/Chinn.html
  4. https://americacomesalive.com/dr-may-chinn-harlem-physician-cancer-researcher/
  5. https://blackamericaweb.com/2016/03/10/little-known-black-history-fact-dr-may-edward-chinn/
  6. https://www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/chinn.html