Sarah Parker Remond (1826 – 1894): An African American Medical Doctor

by Sirpa Salenius

Sarah Parker Remond graduated from the Santa Maria Nuova hospital school in 1868 with a diploma for professional medical practice. She was originally from Salem, Massachusetts, where she was born into a family of free African Americans. Her father, John Remond, was a famous local caterer and her mother, Nancy Lenox, was a fancy-cake maker. Her sisters ran hairdressing salons, manufactured wigs, and prepared a medicated lotion against hair loss. The entire family was active in campaigning against slavery, and Remond’s brother, Charles Lenox, was a well-known abolitionist lecturer who was among the first to speak in England and Ireland raising awareness of the horrors of slavery. In 1856, Sarah Remond became a speaker for the American Anti-Slavery Society. Between 1856 and 1858, she toured with other white and black activists, including her brother as well as Susan B. Anthony and Abbey Kelley, who were also campaigning for women’s emancipation. They spoke in New York City, Rochester, Utica, and Montreal, and in New England, Michigan, and Ohio. As Sarah Remond observed, the audience at their antislavery lectures was closely packed. (1)
In December 1858, Sarah Remond left for England where she continued to speak against slavery, at times lecturing together with such prominent figures as Frederick Douglass. She was well received and newspapers praised her as “one of the best female lecturers” they had heard. (2) In London, she became friends with Clementia Taylor and her husband, Peter Taylor, member of Parliament. Their home, the Aubrey House, was one of the central gathering places of London radical reformist circles. Sarah Remond became a member in the London Emancipation Committee and in the executive committee of the Ladies’ London Emancipation Society established in 1863. She also enrolled at the Bedford Ladies College, where she studied such topics as French and Latin. In London, she met Giuseppe Garibaldi and became friends with Giuseppe Mazzini. She participated in fundraising events to support Mazzini’s goal of Italian unification, Italia unita. When she moved to Florence, she carried letters of introduction written by Mazzini.
Sarah Remond arrived at Firenze La Bella in August 1866. She established herself at Casa Iandelli, a centrally located respectable pension, and signed up for a one-month membership at the Gabinetto Vieusseux newsroom and lending library. She wrote that she was not “here [in Florence] for pleasure, but for study.” (3) Her request to be admitted to the Santa Maria Nuova hospital school, dated 30 October 1866, was written in Italian. The two reference letters accompanying her request reveal that in London she had studied medicine in the departments of midwifery and surgery at London University College, graduating as a nurse.
The name of Sarah Parker Remond, negra d’America appears among the students admitted to the Department of Obstetrics at the Santa Maria Nuova hospital for the academic year 1866 – 67. The first year she was auditing classes, after which she took the entrance examination that permitted her to continue her studies. She passed the test with excellent marks (benissimo). The formal request letter in which Sarah Remond requested to be admitted to the school was dated 13 November 1867; in the letter she gave her address as 8 Via Santo Spirito.
The hospital school documents reveal that she had Italianized her name to Sara, on 2 July 1868 Remond Sara di America (Stati Uniti) had completed her studies as well as practical work and requested to be admitted to take the final examination. The hospital school documents testify that on 29 July 1868, Remond, Sarah Parker, figlia di John nativa di Salem Stati Uniti had been given a permission to take the test, which she passed. An American newspaper article confirms, that “after a regular course of study and also of hospital practice, she [Sarah Remond] has recently passed the necessary examination, and received a diploma for professional medical practice.” Her prospects in Florence were good, as testified by an American newspaper, the Revolution: “Miss Remond is said to be not only well received everywhere in Florence, but she has friends among the very best people there.” (4) She knew the poet Francesco dall’Ongaro, the Greek author Margherita Mignaty who held a salon on Via Cavour, and American art collector James Jackson Jarves, among many other prominent people visiting or residing in Florence. In Florence, she married the Italian Lazzaro Pintor in 1877. According to the marriage certificate, “Sara P. Remond was a housewife (“atta a casa”).” She seems to have stayed married to Pintor until her death. Sarah Parker Remond is buried at the Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Rome. According to her death certificate, she passed away on 13 December 1894. Her residence at the time of her death was Florence and her profession, according to the death certificate, was surgeon (“medico chirurgo”).

Fondazione Ospedale Santa Maria Nuova, letter by Sarah Parker Remond

Source: Salenius, Sirpa. An Abolitionist Abroad: Sarah Parker Remond in Cosmopolitan Europe, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2016.

(1) Remond, qtd. in: Dorothy B. Porter, Sarah Parker Remond, Abolitionist and Physician, Journal of Negro History 20.3 (1935): 289.

(2) Lecture on American Slavery by a Colored Lady, Warrington Times, 29 January 1859, reprinted in the Liberator, 11 March 1859.

(3) Qtd. in Angelina Reyes, Elusive Autobiographical Performativity, in; Loopholes and Retreats; African American Writers and the Nineteenth Century, ed. John Cullen Gruesser and Hanna Wallinger, special issue of Forecaast 17: 159, 2009.

(4) The Revolution, 5 August 1869.