‘It’s still a very sad & painful story for the family’

Mixed emotions for family of Trinidadian medical student expelled in 1918, granted posthumous degree in May

Ethelbert Bartholomew was expelled in 1918.
Credit: 
Supplied by Maria Bartholomew
Dr. Maria Bartholomew, a practicing gastroenterologist, was in the middle of a client consultation when Queen’s issued a formal apology for expelling her great-uncle from the School of Medicine. 
 
Stifling tears, she paused the appointment to watch the livestream with her patient. 
 
“I was very moved by it,” she said in a phone interview with The Journal. “The apology meant a lot to my family.”
 
A month and a half later, when the School of Graduate Studies and the Faculty of Health Sciences held convocation on May 23, Maria’s great-uncle, Ethelbert Bartholomew, received a special posthumous degree from the University.
 
Members of Bartholomew’s family were in attendance at the special convocation ceremony. His son, Daniel, as well as his granddaughter, Rosalind Bartholomew, and his great-niece, Dr. Maria Bartholomew, all made the journey to Kingston to witness the historic moment.
 
Ethelbert Bartholomew was asked to withdraw from the School of Medicine in 1918 in compliance with a ban that sought to remove Black students from the faculty.
 
Bartholomew was just one target of a ban enforced by Queen’s until 1965, which was implemented to show alignment with discriminatory policies favoured by the American Medical Association (AMA), an association of physicians whose stated mission today is “to promote the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health.” 
 
The AMA also ranked North American medical schools, which made compliance with their racist guidelines important to Queen’s at the time. 
 
The University enforced the ban for nearly 40 years and on three separate occasions—in 1978, 1986, and 1988—misrepresented historical facts of the ban when confronted with evidence.
 
The University was finally forced to acknowledge the ban when Edward Thomas, a former PhD candidate at Queen’s, raised the issue at a Senate meeting in September of 2018. 
 
A motion to officially repeal the ban passed unanimously at the Senate’s October meeting. 
 
In April, the University issued a formal apology to those affected by the ban, including Ethelbert Bartholomew’s son, Daniel, who was in attendance.
 
At a formal dinner marking the occasion, Daniel requested that Richard Reznick, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, grant a posthumous degree to Bartholomew.
 
Dean Reznick said yes.
 
“It’s still a very sad and painful story for the family,” Bartholomew said.
 
Bartholomew believes Ethelbert’s inability to be certified as a physician has had generational repercussions for 
her family.
 
“What if he had graduated?” she asked. “How different things would have been for the family.”
 
Bartholomew said the emotions she felt at the ceremony were mixed. 
 
“Happiness and joy that he was awarded the degree posthumously, mixed with sadness about what was stolen,” she said.
 
“The enormity of the injustice, that’s what has struck me now,” she remarked. “There’s nothing you can do to correct injustice.”
 

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