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North Jersey History Center Online Exhibits

Dr. Sarah Evelyn Lewis

Sarah Evelyn Lewis

Dr. Evelyn Lewis – Graduate of Morristown High School 1919

NJH&GC Photograph and Image Collection

Dr. Sarah Evelyn Lewis was born in 1902 in Morristown. She attended Morristown High School and graduated in 1919 as the only African American student in her class. In 1919, Sarah entered Howard University in Washington DC and became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. In 1924, she entered Howard’s medical school, where of the 185 students to apply, she was one of only 48 selected, and the only woman at that. During her third year, Ms. Lewis was elected to Kappa Pi Honorary Medical Society, the organization’s only female member. In 1927, Sarah graduated medical school and was placed in an internship at Howard’s Freedman’s Hospital for the following two years.

After Dr. Lewis’ internship she opened her own practice from 1929 to 1936 in Newark, NJ, after which she moved to Providence Hospital in Baltimore from 1937 to 1943 to become a house physician. From 1943 to 1947, Dr. Lewis returned to New Jersey to work with the U.S. Public Health Department in the labor camps. These labor camps were part of the war effort to keep agriculture alive. Migrant workers, POWs, Japanese internees, and workers brought in from the Caribbean and Canada, lived in labor camps to help with the farm work that was desperately needed, as rural men and women entered the armed services or moved to the cities for better wages. Sarah then moved with her husband, Dr. Leroy Payne to Brooklyn, NY to open their own practice. Throughout her marriage, she never took her husband’s name, preferring to keep her surname, which was unconventional for the time. In 1979, Sarah retired and moved back to Morristown to live near her sister Gladys J. Lewis, who worked as a nurse in Morristown. Dr. Lewis passed away in 1989.