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Geraldine Burton Branch, M.D. ’36

‌Distinguished physician, educator and public health professional

Geraldine Burton Branch, M.D. ’36 
School of Medicine

Geraldine wrote that she wanted to be a doctor, and her classmates laughed at her.

“They said, ‘You're black, and you're a woman, and no man will ever marry you.’ Oh, those kids really made me furious!”  Even her mother, a nurse, discouraged Geraldine from pursuing her dream. It only made her more determined.

Dr. Branch went on to earn a double major in chemistry and physics and a double minor in biology and pedagogy at Hunter College. Only four feet eleven inches tall, she had to stand on a chair in order to reach the laboratory equipment to perform her classroom experiments. One day during her senior year, the chair she was standing on collapsed and she seriously injured her knee.

For the next two years she struggled with this disability as she taught chemistry in New York City high schools and worked at the YWCA. Eventually she was referred to an orthopedic surgeon who offered to perform surgery on her knee.

The night before the operation, a doctor on the ward asked her to take a sleeping pill. When she resisted, “he said, ‘But this is my last night on the service, and you'd do me a favor if you took the medicine.’ I said, ‘Okay, and what favor will you do for me if I take the medicine?’ So he said, ‘You tell me what you want, and I'll try and give it to you.’  I said, ‘I want to go to medical school.’ He said, ‘Oh, I know who can send you to medical school! Walter G. Crump.’”

Walter Gray Crump Sr., M.D. was a New York Medical College Class of 1895 alumnus and voluntary faculty member who in 1928 established the first scholarship program in the United States for minority medical students at the College. Dr. Branch repeated Dr. Crump’s address and telephone number to herself while they put her under the ether. The operation was a success, and as soon as Dr. Branch was able to walk normally again she made an appointment to see Dr. Crump.

“He said, ‘Little lady, I have just about promised a scholarship to someone else.’ I said, ‘You did? Who is it?’ He said, ‘The president of Tuskegee University’s daughter.’ I said, ‘Have you talked to her? Do you know whether she wants to be a doctor or not?’ ‘No.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you do this: open it up to anyone who wants to apply and is qualified to take the Medical Aptitude Test, and whoever gets the best mark on the test gets the scholarship?’ He said, ‘Well, that is an idea.’”

Not long afterward, Geraldine received a Western Union telegram inviting her to take the Medical Aptitude Test. She earned the highest grade of everyone who took the test and was invited to interview at New York Medical College for a position in the Class of 1936.

“I told them I wanted to study medicine the moment a woman doctor could be a doctor for women. There weren’t a lot of women doctors in those days – remember, that was in 1932 – so that’s all I was thinking about.”

Dr. Branch earned a medical degree from New York Medical College in 1936 as well as a master’s degree in public health from U.C.L.A. in 1962. From 1941 to 2001, she worked in New York and California as a gynecologist and obstetrician, family planning clinician, medical examiner, district health officer, medical director, faculty member, and consultant in obstetrics, gynecology, public health, and preventive medicine. Later she married and had a son who became a dentist and a daughter who became a teacher.

Last spring, after attending a New York Medical College alumni gathering in Los Angeles, Dr. Branch was inspired to fund a four-year scholarship through the College’s Adopt A Scholar program.

“I'm very proud that God blessed me the way he did. All I had to do was make good grades and behave myself, and I didn't have any problem doing that. I just was blessed, that’s all. I feel like God helped me and I should pass it on. I just hope that the person who gets the scholarship will pass it on after they become successful.”