First African-American Female Psychoanalyst in the US, Margaret Morgan Lawrence

Inspired by her brother’s death

(Reprinted with permission from Replacement Children: The Unconscious Script by Rita Battat and Abigail Brenner, MD)

August 19, 1914 – December 4, 2019

Despite great discrimination, Margaret Lawrence became the first African-American female psychoanalyst in the United States. Dr. Lawrence was the first black female physician certified by the American Board of pediatrics. She earned her master’s degree in public health from Columbia University where she studied under World renowned Dr. Benjamin Spock who talked about connection between physical health and psychological well-being and treated mothers and their children with respect. She vowed to pattern herself after him.

Margaret Lawrence
Margaret Lawrence

Her work included clinical care, teaching, and research. she later opened a private psychiatric practice and helped establish a mental health program in the local school system in Rockland county. She wrote two books about mental health for children and inner city families.

She said that her interest In psychiatry and her desire and drive to become a doctor began in her childhood because of the loss of her 11-month-old brother who died two years before she was born.

Lawrence said “in childhood and through adolescence I said I wanted to become a doctor because of the death of my only sibling, my brother at 11-months-old, two years before I was born. Someone like me could’ve saved him.“

Her brother, named after their father but given the nickname, Candy Man, died from a congenital condition leaving a dark cloud over the family and was a dominating factor in Margaret’s childhood. Her mother suffered from long episodes of depression where she would stay in her bed for weeks at a time. 

Due to her father’s career as a Episcopalian priest, the family moved many times. Each time they moved, they placed a large portrait of Candy Man, measuring 3 x 4‘, prominently in their new living room. Margaret had a reoccurring dream that she was the one who had died and was laid out in a coffin beneath the large portrait.

This brother represented what Margaret could not be. He was a boy, named after the father. Whereas females were not accepted into the Episcopal priesthood, a son might have grown  up to be a priest like the dad. 

Dr. Lawrence saw helping others as a privilege and sought to help others achieve victory over trauma. She continued to see patients until she was 90 years old. She passed away at 105 years old on December 4, 2019.

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