Today’s Doodle pays tribute to Helen Rodríguez Trías, a physician, educator, and outspoken advocate for women and children’s right to healthcare.
Born in New York City on this day in 1929, Rodríguez Trias moved to Puerto Rico with her family and later enrolled in the University of Puerto Rico’s medical school, graduating with highest honors. She was inspired to pursue a career in medicine because, she said, it "combined the things I loved the most, science and people.”
Upon moving her practice from Puerto Rico to NYC, she became a staunch supporter of grassroots efforts to improve the quality of life for the community served by Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx, where she worked as director of the Department of Pediatrics. She developed programs to help abused children and families affected by HIV and AIDS.
Over time Dr. Rodríguez Trias expanded her efforts on an international scale, working tirelessly to improve health care for families in Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. "I hope I'll see in my lifetime a growing realization that we are one world,” she said. “No one is going to have 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."
A founder of the New York Latino Commission on AIDS, she became the first Hispanic American woman to serve as president of the American Public Health Association. In 2001, she was honored her with the Presidential Citizens Medal as an ''outstanding educator and dynamic leader in public health.''
Happy Birthday Dr. Rodríguez Trías!
Special thanks to the family of Dr. Rodriguez Trías for their partnership on this project. Below, her children share some thoughts about their mother and her legacy:
“Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trías MD had many firsts in her life. As a Mother of three and pregnant with her youngest child, Danie, she received the highest honors in her Medical School graduating class in 1960. She was also the first Latina President of the American Public Health Association.
Her activism in the areas of sterilization abuse and reproductive rights led to regulatory changes in New York City that led to informed consent for these medical procedures and paved the way for legislation in New York and California.
Our Step Dad and widower, Eddie Gonzalez, wanted the epithet of our mother’s memorial bench overlooking a children’s playground at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, and the Santa Cruz beach to read: “Healer and Humanitarian”—simple and to the point, which is exactly how Mom lived her life. She left big shoes to fill so that a lot of the people she encouraged along her trajectory could fill them. Altogether we’re so happy that this commemorative doodle will encourage even more people to follow in her footsteps!”
Dr. Jo Ellen Brainin-Rodriguez