Natalia Murphy Tanner was born in Jackson,
Mississippi on June 28, 1922 to Joseph Rush Tanner and
Doris Murphy Tanner. Prior to her first birthday, she
and her family moved to Chicago, Illinois, where her
father began a private practice in medicine.
enjoyed a privileged childhood in Chicago, attending
both the Fine Arts Academy of the Art Institute of Chicago
and the Chicago Conservatory of Music. After graduating
from Englewood High School in 1939, Dr. Tanner attended
Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee for two years.
She then transferred to the University of Chicago, embarking
on an accelerated program in pre-medicine. She transferred
to Meharry Medical College after two years, from which
she graduated in 1946.
continued her medical training with an internship at
Harlem Hospital in New York City from 1946-1947 and
a residency in pediatrics that began at the University
of Chicago-the first African American accepted-and was
completed at Meharry's Hubbard Hospital in 1950. In
1951, Dr. Tanner passed her boards in pediatrics and
became the first board-certified African American pediatrician
in Detroit. Her
relocation was prompted by her marriage to Dr. Waldo
Cain, a surgeon whose family was in Detroit.
initially being denied an appointment at Children's
Hospital of Detroit, Dr. Tanner entered private practice
with Dr. John Lumpkin. She subsequently accepted a fellowship
in pathology and hematology at Children's Hospital,
but also chose to continue her private practice work.
her career, Dr. Tanner was associated with both black-owned
and -operated hospitals, as well as with majority institutions.
to continue the career in academic medicine she had
started at Meharry and the University of Chicago became
a reality in 1968 with an appointment at the Wayne State
University School of Medicine and culminated with a
full clinical professorship in 1992.
Dr. Tanner became the first African American Fellow
of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She also became
the first female and first African American to serve
as president of its Michigan chapter in 1983.
belongs to the Wayne County Medical Society, the Michigan
State Medical Society, the National Medical Association,
the Detroit Medical Society, the Society for Adolescent
Medicine, the Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology,
and the United Pediatric Society.
and involvement with the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People and the Episcopal church,
as well as other community and civic organizations,
began immediately after Dr. Tanner's arrival in Detroit.
practicing, Dr. Tanner's career and interests have shifted
from general pediatrics to adolescent medicine.
Tanner discusses some of her professional experiences
with Black hospitals in Detroit.
Did you ever consider working at the black proprietary
hospitals, black-owned and black-operated hospitals?
I worked as the head or chairman or chief of the Department
At which ones?
R: I worked
at Dr. [DeWitt] Burton's hospital, Burton Mercy [Hospital].
But now that's another thing. I didn't have any problem
getting any of my hospital affiliations at the white
hospitals when I came and I did not realize the significance
of it. You see, I got my appointment at Children's [Hospital]
first, then at Hutzel [Hospital].
When was this? 1951?
fifty-one or 1952, yes. I got it because I had the qualifications.
Then I was appointed at Hutzel Hospital. See, I didn't
realize the significance of it. They said, "With a personal
endorsement from the Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics."
I didn't know what that meant.
It was Woman's then, right?
was Woman's. Then at Harper [Hospital], the same thing
happened to me and at Sinai and Grace [Hospitals]. See,
I did not realize the racial impact of it because I
had been in the situation where I was completely absorbed.
This situation in Detroit was very traumatic for me,
racially, when I came here. I had applied to the Detroit
Pediatric Society. They kept my application for nine
months and then told [me] that they had lost it. But
I went to every meeting and then I said, "Just give
me another application and I'll re-apply." When I was
in Chicago, I became a Fellow of the American Academy
of Pediatrics and I joined the Illinois chapter. When
I came to Detroit, I was a transfer member. I went to
this meeting [of the Michigan Chapter of the Academy
of Pediatrics] and they never recognized me. They never
recognized my presence at all! So, he [the chairperson]
was about to adjourn the meeting and he said, "Is there
any additional business?" I said, "Yes, there's some
very important business." I stood up and said, "I think
you have failed to recognize that I am a transfer member."
He said, "Oh, this is an applicant." I said, "No, I
am not an applicant. I am a full Fellow of the American
Academy of Pediatrics and I am a transfer member from
the Illinois chapter."
And what was his reaction after that?
said, "Oh, I am so sorry for the oversight." So, those
were bitter experiences for me. But they knew not to
bother me because I just said it's their problem and
I'm going on with my program.
How did you come to work with the black hospitals in
black doctors were sending me patients. At that time,
I was still interested in teaching so that I was doing
conferences and lectures for them and I was very active
in the Detroit Medical Society. I was at Children's
Hospital, and I was the first black board-certified
pediatrician that they had on their staff. When I first
came to Children's Hospital, they wouldn't even let
the student nurses on affiliation stay in the nurses'
residence. They had to find rooms out in the city. Let
me tell you this anecdote. The first time I had a private
patient admitted to Children's Hospital, I told the
admissions office, "Now, this is a private patient.
This is Dr. Tanner and I am on the attending staff.
This is a private patient. This patient is to go into
the private ward, not with the clinic patients." This
little black, female child was sitting up there with
all the white kids. They were still segregating patients,
but they subsequently changed through the years. When
I was first at the Children's Hospital, they would look
at my records. It was as if they were waiting for me
to make a mistake.