Marilyn Hughes Gaston

Quick Look At Gaston

Marilyn Hughes Gaston was an African American physician, and the first Black woman to lead a bureau in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She is known for her work against Sickle Cell.

Early Life

Marilyn Hughes Gaston was born on January 31, 1939, in Cincinnati, Ohio. By the time Gaston was 9 years old, she knew that she wanted to be a doctor. Many of her teachers were discouraging toward her dreams, saying things like she would never get into medical school and there were too many obstacles as a Black female. When she was around 12 years old, Gaston's mother collapsed in their living room. Later she had been diagnosed with Cervical Cancer. In high school, more and more people were telling Gaston that she faced too many obstacles to pursue her dream, but she had two role models that encouraged her otherwise. Her mother would tell her that racism is not an excuse for failure, and her grandmother worked to desegregate their community pool.


Gaston got into Miami University, where she studied zoology before going to medical school. She graduated in 1960, and later enrolled in the University of Cincinnati Medical School. Gaston was one of only six females in her class, and she was the only Black person in her class. She graduated with her medical degree in 1964 and went on to do her internship at Philadelphia General Hospital.


Once she completed her training, Gaston chose to focus on public health, specifically for the poor, rather than opening her own private practice. She established a community health center in the low-income neighborhood of Lincoln Heights, Ohio. While leading the Lincoln Heights medical facility, Gaston began to combat Sickle Cell anemia, a blood disease that affects mostly African Americans. She set up a Sickle Cell center in Cincinnati where she would test and treat people for Sickle Cell. This was open until 1976 when she moved to Washington DC. In DC, she took a job at the Sickle Cell Center in the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. While here, she and her research team found an important discovery involving Sickle Cell that helped to combat the disease from birth. Babies who had Sickle Cell, but received penicillin when they were born were way less likely to die from it than babies who hadn't received penicillin. after this revolutionary discovery, screenings were implemented for newborns on a national level. They'd be tested for the disease so that they could be treated accordingly. In 1979, Gaston joined the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. She was promoted in 1990, becoming the Assistant Surgeon General and the Rear Admiral. Later that year, Gaston changed offices to the Bureau of Primary Health Care of the Health Resources and Services Administration. Here, she focused on improving the availability of quality health care, specifically in poor, isolated neighborhoods. Gaston was able to take a $5 million budget and improve health care options for over 12 million people.

Marilyn Hughes Gaston is still alive today and a member of many medical research organizations. She also has a scholarship named after her. It's a full, four-year scholarship to the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine called the Gaston Scholarship. Gaston has shown that no matter what obstacles come to you, they can be overcome.