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Dr. Muriel Petioni

From the beginning, Dr. Muriel Petioni was destined to become a doctor. Born on January 1, 1914, into a family with a formidable medical tradition-nine of her family members are doctors-she spent her early childhood years in Trinidad and Tobago before moving with her family to Harlem, New York, where her father set up a private practice. Petioni soon followed in her father's footsteps, graduating with a B.S. from Howard University in 1934, and graduating from Howard University Medical School three years later.

After a two-year internship at Harlem Hospital Center from 1937 to 1939, Dr. Petioni became a college physician at several universities, and in 1942, she married a Tuskegee Airman named Mal Woolfolk. In 1947, a year after Woolfolk had returned from the war, the couple had their first and only son, Charles Woolfolk. Dr. Petioni took a break from medicine and spent the next three years as a housewife and mother.

In 1950, she returned not only to her profession, but also to her home, in Harlem, and set up a private practice in the very same office her father had used for his practice. She would continue this practice for forty years, tirelessly serving the Harlem community. A medical doctor, educator and community activist, she has worked diligently to ensure that underserved communities receive proper medical attention and equitable access to health care.

Dr. Petioni served for thirty years as a school physician in Central Harlem for the New York City Department of Health, as well as the supervising physician for Central Harlem and East Harlem from 1980 to 1984. She currently sits on the board for the Harlem Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone and is chair and founder of the Friends of Harlem Hospital Center, organized in 1987 to raise funds and provide support for the 114-year-old hospital.

The advancement of women in medicine has always been important to Dr. Petioni, and in 1974, she founded the Susan Smith McKinney Steward Medical Society for Women, a professional association for black women physicians. This organization has been instrumental in providing institutional support for women in medical profession in the Greater New York area. In her work with the Coalition of 100 Black Women, Petioni has developed a mentorship program that guides young black women into careers in medicine.

Dr. Petioni is the recipient of numerous awards, honors and recognitions, too numerous to list. As she enters her sixth decade of community health work in Harlem, Dr. Petioni's remarkable energy, passion and dedication remain undiminished.

Dr. Petioni passed away on December, 6, 2011 at the age of 97.

Accession Number




Interview Date


Last Name


Maker Category

St. Mark the Evangelist School

P.S. 89

P.S. 68

Junior High School 136

New York University

Howard University College of Medicine

Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing & Visual Arts

Howard University

First Name




Favorite Season


Favorite Vacation Destination


Favorite Quote

Go With The Flow And Ride With The Tide.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date


Speakers Bureau Region City

New York


Trinidad & Tobago

Favorite Food


Death Date


Short Description

Community leader and school physician Dr. Muriel Petioni (1914 - 2011 ) is a community health worker in Harlem, New York. Petioni opened a private medical practice in Harlem, which she operated for forty years. Dr. Petioni also served for thirty years as a school physician in Central Harlem for the New York City Department of Health. In 1974, Petioni founded the Susan Smith McKinney Steward Medical Society for Women, a professional association for black women physicians.


Wilberforce University

Alabama State University

Bennett College

Hampton University


Favorite Color

Dark Red

Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Slating of Muriel Petioni interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Muriel Petioni's favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Muriel Petioni describes her mother's background, part 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Muriel Petioni traces the origin of her surname</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Muriel Petioni describes her mother's background, part 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Muriel Petioni describes her father's background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Muriel Petioni describes her parents' beginnings in America</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Muriel Petioni lists her siblings and extended family structure</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Muriel Petioni explains her father's occupational choice</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Muriel Petioni recalls her father's decision to attend medical school</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Muriel Petioni discusses living conditions with her father away at medical school</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Muriel Petioni shares her earliest memories</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Muriel Petioni recalls her family's early years in the U.S.</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Muriel Petioni describes opportunities for black women in the 1930s</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Muriel Petioni shares her experience as a Caribbean immigrant to the United States</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Muriel Petioni describes her early career aspirations and college prospects</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Muriel Petioni recounts her medical school experience at Howard University</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Muriel Petioni describes Harlem Hospital during the 1930s</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Muriel Petioni reflects on the development of her medical career</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Muriel Petioni recalls her medical internship at Harlem Hospital Center</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Muriel Petioni reviews her career moves and recalls meeting her husband</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Muriel Petioni talks about her friends, social life and family customs of her youth</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Muriel Petioni recalls building a family</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Muriel Petioni remembers deaths in her family</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Muriel Petioni details the development of her medical career</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Muriel Petioni recounts her father's accolades and her involvement in the Harlem community</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Muriel Petioni details her efforts to organize black female physicians</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Muriel Petioni discusses her involvement with the National Coalition of 100 Black Women</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Muriel Petioni reflects on her life's work</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Muriel Petioni recalls her support network and the way Caribbean women are encouraged to succeed career-wise</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Muriel Petioni discusses her involvement with West Indian organizations</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Muriel Petioni describes her role in the Friends of Harlem Hospital organization</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Muriel Petioni describes her plans for the future</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Muriel Petioni evaluates the historical significance of Harlem Hospital</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Muriel Petioni considers her legacy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Muriel Petioni reflects on changes in the medical professions</a>







Muriel Petioni shares her earliest memories
Muriel Petioni recalls her support network and the way Caribbean women are encouraged to succeed career-wise
Do you have early memories of growing up?$$Yes. I remember growing up. We lived on a hill called Leon (ph.) Hill [Laventille?] in Belmont, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. I remembered we lived on this hill and there were very few homes on that hill. There was--I remember one at the foot of the hill. And I think were kind of in the middle of the hill. And then there was a neighbor who lived further up the hill. And we used to go particularly to the neighbor up the hill. Because he had a lot of fruit trees and all. The person at the foot of the hill, I only remember that they were there. I don't remember too much about--I guess they were okay. But--maybe they didn't have any children (laughs) so. I remembered we had this home with a bathroom. I don't remember anything about a toilet. But we had a bathroom kinda down behind the house. Maybe a few yards where we'd bathe. I think the kitchen was on the outside of the house under a shed. Don't remember where the toilet was. Maybe the toilet was in the bathroom. I don't know. Of course, in those days they had outhouses. But that's very vague in my mind. I remember that we lived with my grandmother, my mother's [Rosa Alling Petioni] mother. And I remember that one occasion we had a severe earthquake. And the house just rattled and things fell off. But it didn't hurt anything. I mean nothing was really damaged. I remember playing with kids and some of the children from the family. Other, you know, cousins and all would come up the hill to visit. Now it's funny--oh, my brother lived with my grandmother--that's what happened. My brother Julio, the one who's Petioni [formerly Julio Forgenie]. He lived with my grandmother [Alicia de Montbrun], my father's [Charles Augustin Petioni] mother. So he didn't live up the hill. Subsequently, after we came and my grandmother died, he went and lived with grandma up on the hill. I remember getting on the ship to come. And I remember walking up this very shaky ladder like--getting up to the--it--$$(Simultaneously) Gangplank?$$Yeah.$$(unclear) or plank?$$Well if not a plank, a stair that was shaky as we came up, with maybe ropes on the sides to hold on to. And I remember Mama carrying my sister [Marguerite Alicia Petioni] in her arms and holding me by the hand coming up this plank. Now the voyage I don't remember. I don't remember arriving at Ellis Island [immigration station in New York, New York]. Except that my father was there to meet us. Some people had to stay on the island--people didn't meet them right away. But he met us as the ship docked. So we didn't have to stay there. Those are the highlights of my memory of those early years.$Remember I told you that my father [Charles Augustin Petioni] interned at St. Agnes Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina. And he met the Delaneys [Henry Beard Delaney and Nanny Logan Delaney]--he met the senior Delaney who was President of the hospital in and also was very involved in Saint Augustine['s] College [Raleigh, North Carolina]. So when he came up here, he bonded, because the father had told him that he had children up here. So he went and met the Delaneys. There were two boys and two girls, as you recall. One girl became a teacher [Sarah Louise 'Sadie' Delaney]. (pauses) The girl became a dentist [Dr. Annie Elizabeth 'Bessie' Delaney], one of the boys became a dentist, and the other boy became a lawyer. And they had offices together on 7th Avenue between 135th and 136th Street, upstairs. So Papa took me one day to meet the Delaneys. Particularly the lady dentist. Because he wanted to expose me to other women in the professions, which I did. Later Dr. May [Edward] Chinn who was one of the early prominent women physicians in New York [New York]--there were other women physicians in New York, but she too was more open and participated in a the life--the medical life of the community. She was interning at Harlem Hospital [Center] when I was in college [New York University, New York, New York]. And he said, "I want you to meet Dr. May Chinn. She's a black woman interning at Harlem Hospital." So I don't think he made any appointment. He just went and--what do you call it? Paged her. (laughs)--took me there and paged her. And told her, "Dr. Chinn, I want you to meet my daughter who wants to be a physician." So he made it a point to expose us to women. We were already in the professional community, but they were mostly men--exposed to black women who were doing things. Okay. So that too. "If they can do it, you can do it. You don't have to be brilliant." He even said, "As long as you have a strong C average, you can do anything you wanna do, if you are focused." So he gave me the confidence. And another one of my colleagues who is now ill, said that her mother told her that--as a black woman she said, "You're a beautiful black woman." She was dark too. Very dark. "You're a beautiful black woman. And you can do anything you wanna do." And the mother was a--worked in service. Of course, a lot of our women who were very bright worked in service, 'cause that was the only thing--they couldn't go on higher educationally. But she told her, "Edith--." Her name's Edith Reed (ph.). And she became very, very active in the medical society--became a cardiologist and had a wonderful practice. And her mother told her that, "You can do anything you wanna be as a black woman. Don't let anybody tell you anything else." And it was funny, I ran into a woman who I worked with at the [New York] Department of Health [and School Health] who her mother worked for--it's funny how small. And, of course, a lot of our men and women have come from modest beginnings, but they had families who would encourage them and say, "You can do anything. Things are tough. But it--education's the key. And all you gotta do is--we'll find the money, or you'll find the money." Because in those days, money was the thing, you couldn't--all of these loans were just not known of. So I'm saying that with that whole--oh I wouldn't be the same. (pauses) I--and as I said, he believed in equal opportunity, so he pushed. And a lot of those early Caribbean people pushed their women. We have, we have several Caribbean--we have several women my age or close to my age--not my age--little younger than me who are second-generation physicians. One American and all the rest are Caribbean. Four or five that I could name you now. But those Caribbean men pushed their women.