Dr. Lena Frances Edwards was born on September 17, 1900 to a propserous family in Washington D.C. After graduating as valedictorian of her high school, she attended Howard University over Brown University, because as she later said ““I knew who I was and was proud of it…I didn’t want to go to one of those schools and come back brainwashed.” After graduating in three years, she entered Howard University College of Medicine in 1921 and completed her internship at the Freedman’s Hospital in Washington D.C. Between 1925 and 1931, she delivered most of her patients’ children at her home clinic, until she was granted admitting privileges to the Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital in Jersey City. Here, she faced the obstacles of being a Black woman in a setting that caused friction between her and the hospital administrators. After noticing the disparity between the treatment poor patients and wealthier patients received, she decided to, and succeeded in, obtaining a residency at the hospital. Sitting for the National Board examinations in obstetrics-gynecology came with its own challenges, as she faced difficulty in getting the necessary hospital endorsements.
Dr. Edwards moved back to Washington D.C. to teach at Howard, and stayed involved in advocating for the less fortunate through the Urban League, the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, the Social Work Advisory Committe, and the Catholic International Council, and served on the boards of a home for unwed motehrs and a local maternal welfare organization. Her work in Hereford, Texas, where she helped set up a fifteen-bed maternity hospital and significantly reduced infant mortality, earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. During her retirement, she worked with organizations on uterine cancer detection and prevention and provided free medical care to low-income seniors, until her death in 1986. Her remarkable life was dedicated and defined by her commitment to advocacy and service to those in need.