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Born on June 7, 1924 in Cambridge, Massachusetts to Mortimer Jackson and Lillian Jackson, at 98, Psychiatrist Dr. June Jackson Christmas doesn’t just understand the human mind. She’s spent a lifetime teaching the next generation to think for themselves.

Not only did she integrate, she also earned her B.S. degree in zoology from Vassar College in 1945 and her M.D. degree in psychiatry from the Boston University School of Medicine in 1949.

Vassar’s first black students: Beatrix McCleary, June Jackson, and Camille Cottrell: 1944 and 1944-5. Image courtesy of

Christmas completed her psychiatric residencies at Bellevue Hospital, and Queens General Hospital. According to The History Makers, she also received a certificate in psychoanalysis from the William Alanson White Institute.

In addition to opening her own private practice, Christmas would work as a psychiatrist for the Riverdale Children’s Association in New York City from 1953 to 1965.

In 1962, she became chief of the group therapy program at the Harlem Hospital Center and founded the Harlem Hospital Rehabilitation Center in 1964.

From 1964 to 1972, she served as principal investigator on research projects for the National Institute of Mental Health; and in 1971, began teaching at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.

In 1972, Christmas was appointed deputy chief of the New York City Department of Mental Health and Retardation Services by Mayor John Lindsay.

According to The History Makers, she was re-appointed in 1973 by Mayor Abraham D. Beame and again in 1978 by Mayor Ed Koch. In 1976, Christmas headed the Department of Health, Education and Welfare transition team for then president-elect Jimmy Carter.

In 1980, Christmas began teaching behavioral science at the C.U.N.Y. Medical School. While teaching at C.U.N.Y. she co-founded the think tank Urban Issues Group.

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Christmas also served as a member of New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s Advisory Committee on Black Affairs in 1986, and as chair of New York City Mayor David Dinkins’ Advisory Council on Child Health in New York City from 1990 to 1994. 

Christmas was a member of Vassar College’s Board of Trustees from 1978 to 1989. She was the first African American woman president of the American Public Health Association in 1980.

“People ask me if it’s harder to be a woman or a Black person. I was one of the first three women to self-identify as Black and graduate from Vassar,” says Dr. Christmas.

She continued, “I had great barriers of racism and sexism in looking for internships. But I have to say that the barrier of racism is greater than being a woman. I interviewed for a residency and the man who was interviewing me said he was concerned that I, as an African-American woman, would be too sexually stimulating to men patients.”

“When I was looking for an office in Manhattan in the 1960s, at least a third of the agents I spoke with on the telephone said they could guarantee me that there were no Blacks or Puerto Ricans in the building. It was so hard to find a place to live that my husband and I wound up going to court, where we prevailed. As a result, they changed the Fair Housing Act in New York.”

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In 2003, she became a member of the board for the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Christmas also received numerous awards for her work, including the 1974 Human Services Award from the Mental Health Association of New York and Bronx Cities, as well as the 1976 Award for Excellence in the Field of Domestic Health from the American Public Health Association.

She was named Vassar College’s President’s 1988 Distinguished Visitor, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Medical Fellowships in 1999.

Dr. Christmas delivers a present to underrepresented psychiatrists

In her honor, The Dr. June Jackson Christmas Medical Student Program at Columbia University offers medical students who belong to historically underrepresented groups the opportunity to explore a career in psychiatry.

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These opportunities are:  a 5-week clinical experience during the summer after the first year of medical school, an 8-week research experience during the summer after the first year of medical school, and a 4-week fourth year elective.

Dr. Christmas taught at Columbia University and continues to be active in her community at 98 years young. Christmas has three children: Vincent, Rachel, and Gordon.

Hailing from Charlotte North Carolina, born litterateur Ezekiel J. Walker earned a B.A. in Psychology at Winston Salem State University. Walker later published his first creative nonfiction book and has...