OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Deirdre Cooper Owens

Portrait of Deirdre Cooper Owens

Deirdre Cooper Owens is The Charles and Linda Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine and Director of the Humanities in Medicine program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is also the Director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia, the country’s oldest cultural institution. The recipient of several prestigious honors including the University of Virginia's Carter G. Woodson Postdoctoral Fellowship and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology Fellowship in Washington, D.C., she is a graduate of two historically black colleges and universities, Bennett College and Clark Atlanta University. Her dissertation won the University of California, Los Angeles's Mary Wollstonecraft Dissertation Award for best women’s history project. Cooper Owens’ first book, Medical Bondage: Race, Gender and the Origins of American Gynecology (2017), traces the relationship between slavery and women’s professional medicine in early America; it won the OAH Darlene Clark Hine Award. Currently, she is working on a second book project that examines mental illness during the era of United States slavery and is also writing a popular biography of Harriet Tubman that examines her through the lens of disability. She primarily teaches classes on the history of medicine. A popular public speaker, Cooper Owens has lectured domestically and abroad to diverse audiences. She has published essays, book chapters, and popular blog pieces on a number of issues that concern African American experiences. She has also made a number of appearances on national media outlets as an expert on issues of race, medicine, and U.S. slavery.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens moves between southern plantations and northern urban centers to reveal how nineteenth-century American ideas about race, health, and status influenced doctor-patient relationships in sites of healing like slave cabins, medical colleges, and hospitals. She retells the story of black enslaved women and Irish immigrant women from the perspective of these exploited groups and restores for us a picture of their lives.
This lecture provides practical advice on how to teach U.S slavery to teachers. Dr. Cooper Owens examines important themes like gender, race, and labor to reveal how teachers can better contextualize the age of slavery to students who need to know and understand the importance of this often fraught and emotionally heavy subject.