Helen Rodriguez Trías, 1929-2001

  • Helen-Rodriguez-Trías-WWP

Woman Category: Academy & Education, Activism & Feminism, and HealthWoman Tags: Educator, Latina Women, NYC Women, and Physician

  • HerStory
    Helen Rodriguez Trías, 1929-2001

    Physician, educator, and advocate for women and children’s right to healthcare. The first Latina to be appointed as the chief of the American Public Health Association.

    Born in NYC to parents who migrated from Puerto Rico. Soon after her birth, the family relocated back to Puerto Rico, and Rodríguez Trías spent her early years there. When she was 10 years old, they returned to the US, where she experienced racism and discrimination due to her Puerto Rican heritage. Her passion for science and people led her to enroll in medical studies at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan. Influenced by the political environment at the university, she participated in students’ strikes against the school anti-Nationalist policy, and due to her brother’s disapproval and threats to cut off her college expenses, she returned to NYC, got married and had 3 children.
     
    At 28, determined to finish her BA degree, Rodríguez Trías returned to the University of Puerto Rico, graduated with highest honors, and continued to UPR’s school of medicine. At the age of 31, soon after having her fourth child, she earned her medical degree. During her residency in San Juan, Rodríguez Trías established the first center for the care of newborn babies in Puerto Rico. Within three years, the hospital’s death rate for newborns decreased by 50%.
     
    After divorcing her husband, she came back to NYC and shifted her focus to community medicine. She became the head of the pediatric department at Lincoln Hospital, where she promoted administrative and patient-care issues and raised awareness of cultural matters regarding health care among the Puerto Rican community. In addition to her medical practice, she taught at Columbia and Fordham universities and served as an associate at the Yeshiva University and Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
     
    Throughout the 70s’, Rodríguez Trías was an active advocate of the women’s health movement, claiming that women need to bring their feminist perspective to female health issues such as maternal health and abortions. She was one of the founders of the Committee for Abortion Rights, the Women’s Caucus of the American Public Health Association, and the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse. She helped draft the federal sterilization guidelines, which require written consent to sterilization in a language the woman understands and set a waiting period between the consent and the procedure.
     
    In the 80s’, Rodríguez Trías was appointed as the medical director of the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute. In this position, her focal point was women from minority groups who were infected with HIV. In the next decade, she served as health co-director of the Pacific Institute for Women’s Health, was a founding member of the Women’s Caucus and the Hispanic Caucus of the American Public Health Association, and became the first Latina to serve as the president of the organization.
     
    Rodríguez Trías was a key figure in the expansion of public health services for women and children in the US as well as in Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East. She died of cancer at the age of 72, a year after receiving the Presidential Citizen’s Medal for her work with people with AIDS and HIV.
     

    “No one is going to have a quality of life unless we support everyone’s quality of life… Not on a basis of do-goodism, but because of a real commitment…it’s our collective and personal health that’s at stake”

    “No one is going to have a quality of life unless we support everyone’s quality of life… Not on a basis of do-goodism, but because of a real commitment…it’s our collective and personal health that’s at stake”

     

    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • In school, she was placed in a class for children with learning disabilities, despite the fact that she spoke English and had good grades. Eventually, her teachers realized that she is gifted and placed her in an advanced class.
    • The Social Justice Award is named after her.
    • During 2020, a statue honoring her will be positioned in St. Mary’s Park, near Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, NYC.
  • More About Her Legacy
    Awards:

    * The Presidential Citizen's Medal

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    Helen Rodriguez Trías, 1929-2001

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  • Helen Rodriguez Trías, 1929-2001

    Woman Tags: Educator, Latina Women, NYC Women, Physician
     

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    Voice of KOLs -- Dr. Helen Rodriguez from San Gabriel Valley Perinatal Medical Group

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  • Photo credit - Wikimedia


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