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Neither Victim nor Villain: Nurse Eunice Rivers, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, and Public Health Work

From: Journal of Women's History
Volume 8, Number 1, Spring 1996
pp. 95-113 | 10.1353/jowh.2010.0446

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Neither Victim nor Villain:
Nurse Eunice Rivers, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, and Public Health Work
Susan L. Smith

Susan L. Smith is assistant professor of history and women's studies at the University of Alberta. She is the author of Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Black Women's Health Activism in America, 1890-1950 (1995).


I thank the following for their comments on earlier versions: Andrea Friedman, Vanessa Northington Gamble, Linda Gordon, Susan Hamilton, Darlene Clark Hine, Judith Walzer Leavitt, Gerda Lerner, Donald Macnab, Leslie Reagan, Leslie Schwalm, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Women's History Dissertators' Group, the audience at the Ninth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women at Vassar College, New York, June 1993, and my students at the University of Alberta. This research was supported by a Women's Studies Research Grant and a Rural Policy Fellowship, both from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. I also thank archivists Aloha South, at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and Daniel T. Williams, at Tuskegee University, for their assistance. Finally, special thanks to Dr. Paul Cornely for sharing his memories with me.


This article is based on material drawn from my book, Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Black Women's Health Activism in America, 1890-1950 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995).

1. James H. Jones, Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (New York: Free Press, 1981; expanded edition 1993), 91 (page numbers refer to the 1981 edition). See also Allan Brandt, "Racism and Research: The Case of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study," in Sickness and Health in America: Readings in the History of Medicine and Public Health, ed. Judith Walzer Leavitt and Ronald L. Numbers (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), 331-343; Tom W. Shick, "Race, Class, and Medicine: 'Bad Blood' in Twentieth-Century America," Journal of Ethnic Studies 10 (Summer 1982): 97-105; and Todd L. Savin, "The Use of Blacks for Medical Experimentation and Demonstration in the Old South," Journal of Southern History 48 (August 1982): 331-348.

2. Herbert M. Morais, The History of the Negro in Medicine (New York: Publishers Company for the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, 1967), 100-101.

3. Eunice Rivers Laurie, interview by A. Lillian Thompson, 10 October 1977, in The Black Women Oral History Project, vol. 7. ed. Ruth Edmonds Hill (New Providence, N.J.: K. G. Saur Verlag, A Reed Reference Publishing Company, 1992), 213-242, from the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College. See also Jones, Bad Blood, 6, 158; Brandt, "Racism and Research," 337; Darlene Clark Hine, Black Women in White: Racial Conflict and Cooperation in the Nursing Profession, 1890-1950 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989), 154-156.

4. M. M. Hubert to Thomas Campbell, May 26, 1922, Box 101, Correspondence 1922, Record Group 33, U.S. Extension Service, National Archives, Washington, D.C.; B. D. Mayberry, "The Role of Tuskegee University in the Origin, Growth and Development of the Negro Extension Service," unpublished manuscript (1988), 111, author's possession; Thomas Monroe Campbell, The Movable School Goes to the Negro Farmer (Tuskegee Institute: Tuskegee Institute Press, 1936; reprint, New York: Arno Press and the New York Times, 1969), 145.

5. Monroe Work, "Racial Factors and Economic Forces in Land Tenure in the South," Social Forces 15 (December 1936): 214-215; Charles S. Johnson, Shadow of the Plantation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934), 7, 104, 109, 112, 128; Pete [End Page 109] Daniel, Standing at the Crossroads: Southern Life Since 1900 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1986), 7.

6. Dr. Hildrus A. Poindexter, "Special Health Problems of Negroes in Rural Areas," Journal of Negro Education 6 (July 1937): 400, 403, 412; U.S. Public Health Service "Report to Congress on the Extent and Circumstances of Cooperation by the Public Health Service with State and Local Authorities in the Drought Stricken Areas Under the Provisions of the Deficiency Act of February 6, 1931," March 1, 1931 to November 30, 1931, General Files, 1924-1935, Box 99, Record Group 90, United States Public Health Service (hereafter USPHS), National Archives, Washington, D.C.

7. Campbell, The Movable School, 118, 121...