Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Establishing A Woman’s Place in Medical School

BOND: But there surely had to be some resistance to you from your classmates, from your professors. My wife’s experience at going to law school in Boston and being told, in effect, that you’re going to get married in a couple of years so why would you become a lawyer?

PINN: Oh, I have lots of great stories about that. One was — and they’re not stories. They’re true stories relating — I guess I should call them incidents. I still recall about two weeks into the first year of medical school — well, our first year of medical school when we were in anatomy lab and one of my classmates came up to me and said, "Vivian, I have to tell you, you have no business being here. I read ahead in my anatomy book and women have smaller brains than men so you’re just taking a place that some man could have."

BOND: Some big-brained man.

PINN: That’s right. Some big-brained man. And, of course, I always — when I’m giving talks I talk about this, I share my class picture. Then I show the graduation picture and he’s not there because he flunked out second year so I laugh and say, you know, the recent controversy we’ve had in the sciences about whether women’s lack of achievement is due to lack of innate ability or the morphology of our brains versus gender and societal issues is not news to me, that I’ve known since the fall of 1963 that women had smaller brains than men. But I’ve also known since graduation time in 1967 that that smaller brain doesn’t necessarily determine whether or not you’re going to be intellectually successful. And I had the same experiences at many other points during my career but, you know, when you have your mind set on something, you just sort of say, you know, "Let them say that." And that would just stimulate me to work harder and do more.