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Dr. Frances Jones Bonner

Dr. Frances Jones BonnerDr. Frances J. Bonner, (1919-2000) was born in Saint Louis, and grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, where her father David D. Jones was president of Bennett College, an institution devoted to the education of young Afro-American women.

While a freshman at Bennett College, she led a successful protest and boycott of the local movie theaters in Greensboro North Carolina. (The theaters in North and South Carolina would not show movies where Whites and Afro-Americans were depicted as equals.) After months of picketing their efforts were successful, leading the Carolina Times to conclude that “the step taken by the students in the two Negro schools in Greensboro shows more courage on the part of Negro youth than we have any record of anywhere else in the south.”

Dr. Frances Jones BonnerDr. Bonner graduated from Bennett College and in 1939 entered Boston University Medical School, and graduated in 1943. Her internship and residency was in neurology and neuropathology at Boston City Hospital and she was research assistant in epilepsy at Children’s Hospital for a short time. Dr. Bonner was the first winner of the Helen C. Putnam Fellowship at Radcliffe College (1946) in advanced study in Genetics and Mental Hygiene.

In 1949 Dr. Bonner came to the Massachusetts General Hospital and for fifty years she supervised the training of residents in individual psychotherapy. She was the first African American physician to train and to be a faculty member at Massachusetts General Hospital. She was a member of the faculty at both Harvard Medical School and Boston University.

While at the MGH Dr. Bonner did research on psychosomatic medicine sponsored by the United States Department of Public Health. In 1949 she opened a private practice in psychiatry, sharing office space for a time with her husband Dr. Charles D. Bonner, a specialist in internal medicine associated with the cancer research unit of Tufts Medical School.

In addition to her service at the MGH, Dr. Bonner was appointed the first psychiatrist in the history of the Boston School Department in 1955. There she examined cases reported to her and made recommendations to the superintendent and school committee.

Dr. Bonner received her psychoanalytic certification at the Psychoanalytic Society and Institute and, with others, founded the Psychoanalytic Institute of New England in 1975, which trains holders of advanced mental health degrees in the practice of psychoanalysis.

The MGH Department of Psychiatry and the MGH Psychiatry Diversity Committee have established the Frances J. Bonner, MD, Award in her honor. She was a pioneer in crossing racial and gender boundaries in medicine and beyond.

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