NEW IBERIA, La. – The newly founded Iberia African American Historical Society (IAAHS) located in New Iberia, La. has received approval from the Louisiana Office of Tourism (under the Office of Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser) for the erection of a state historic marker honoring Dr. Emma Wakefield-Paillet, the first Black woman to receive a medical degree and to establish a medical practice in Louisiana.
The marker will be installed in the heart of the historic district of New Iberia (Bouligny Plaza, Main Street). Plans are to hold the marker installation ceremony in the Fall of 2018 to coincide roughly with the sesquicentennial (150 years) celebration of the founding of Iberia Parish (October 30, 1868) and the sesquicentennial anniversary of Dr. Wakefield-Paillet’s birth (November 21, 1868).
In preparation for the New Iberia ceremony of Dr. Wakefield-Paillet’s legacy, Dr. Darrell Bourque (Louisiana Poet Laureate) is writing an original poem in her honor. Also Mr. Edward Verdin, a playwright from Franklin, La. is writing an original play celebrating Dr. Wakefield-Paillet’s life and legacy in Louisiana. More events are planned and will be revealed soon!
Born November 21, 1868 to state senator Samuel Wakefield and wife Amelia Valentine Wakefield, both of New Iberia, Emma graduated with honors from the Medical Department of New Orleans University in 1897. She sat for the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners (LSBME) examination April 15, 1897 with 67 other candidates. Of those taking the exam, five were Black. Emma was the sole female candidate. Six of the 68 candidates failed to make the required passing grade and were refused the certificate. Special mention was made of Emma’s performance on the examination in the Board's minutes: “The colored woman passed an exceptionally good examination and the Board made special mention of her case.”
After receiving her medical license in 1897, she considered putting her medical practice on hold for one year while she attended a music conservatory in New York, as she was an accomplished classical pianist. However, medicine evidently won out because in the July 3, 1898 edition of the Times Democrat, Emma ran an ad announcing the relocation of her practice in New Orleans to 1233 N. Villere (next to Esplanade Avenue) along with her office hours. Newspaper accounts of the day reported that Dr. Wakefield-Paillet limited her practice to diseases of children.
Please designate your donation as: "For the IAAHS Historic Marker Fund."