Medical Officers in the Military

Who was the first African-American woman medical officer in the U.S. Army?

Clotilde Dent Bowen (1923–2011), who was commissioned in the U.S. Army in 1955 with the rank of captain, became the first black woman medical officer in the army. When she was promoted to colonel, she was the first black woman to receive this rank. Bowen began accumulating “firsts” before she entered the army. When she graduated from The Ohio State University Medical School in 1947, she was the first black woman to receive a medical degree from the institution. Bowen’s medical specialty was neuropsychiatry. During the Vietnam War she served in that country, and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Legion of Merit in 1971, in recognition of her service; the Meritorious Service Medal was given to her in 1974. Several awards from Ohio State, including The Ohio State University Professional Achievement Award in 1998, also recognized her achievements. Bowen was born in Chicago, Illinois, and did both her undergraduate and professional studies at Ohio State. Before she entered the army, she practiced in New York City and was associated for a time with Harlem Hospital. Before going to Vietnam, Bowen was assigned to Veterans Administration hospitals. Her last post before entering private practice was a position as staff psychiatrist at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Denver, Colorado, from 1990 to 1996. Bowen’s professional skills resulted in a certificate in psychiatry from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in 1966, and designation as a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. She served in the army for thirty years.


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