IPR is featuring some of the many Hispanic and Latino pioneers and modern-day heroes to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
Born in 1929 in New York City to Puerto Rican parents, Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías was a public health expert and women’s rights activist.
Dr. Rodríguez Trías earned her degrees in medicine from the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan. After medical school, she established Puerto Rico’s first infant health clinic. Within three years, the infant mortality at the hospital declined by 50%.
Dr. Rodríguez Trías left Puerto Rico to lead the pediatrics department at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx. The hospital had mostly Black and Latino patients, and was often criticized by activists for health code violations and negligence. Dr. Rodríguez Trías created agreements with the activists, a radical act in the 1970s, to improve the hospital.
She also worked to highlight how the feminist movement in the 1960s was only focused on white women. As a result, Dr. Rodríguez Trías became a major player in the women’s rights movement. In 1974, Dr. Rodríguez Trías founded the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse and the Committee for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse.
In the 1980s, Dr. Rodríguez Trías worked as medical director of New York State’s AIDS Institute, specifically advocating for women and children with HIV. She also co-founded the Women’s Caucus and the Hispanic Caucus of the American Public Health Association (APHA) in 1970 and 1973, respectively. She later became the first Latina director of the APHA in 1993.
President Bill Clinton awarded Dr. Rodríguez Trías the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001. She died later that year from cancer. In 2019, New York City announced that it will honor her with a statue installed in the Bronx, near the site of the old Lincoln Hospital.