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Honoring Louisiana's First Black Female Physician

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Dr. Emma Wakefield Paillet painting by Dennis Paul Williams

State Historic Marker Commemoration of Emma Wakefield-Paillet, M.D.

Celebrating Over 120 years Of Black Women Practicing Medicine in Louisiana (1897-2018)

On Nov. 3, 2018, the Iberia African American Historical Society (IAAHS) located in New Iberia, La. unveiled a state historical marker commemorating the accomplishments of Emma Wakefield-Paillet, M.D., the first Black woman to earn a medical degree in Louisiana and to practice medicine in the state.

Dr. Wakefield-Paillet graduated with honors from the Medical Department of New Orleans University in 1897 and received her Louisiana medical license on April 15, 1897. She was born in New Iberia, La., Nov. 21, 1868, to state senator Samuel Wakefield and Mrs. Amelia Valentine Wakefield, both natives of New Iberia. By 1898 she had opened her medical practice in New Orleans, La. making her the first Black woman to practice medicine in New Orleans. Dr. Wakefield-Paillet moved to San Francisco, Ca. in 1900 where she married Joseph Oscar Paillet of Opelousas, La. The state of California granted her a license to practice medicine in 1901.


The ceremony begun at 10 a.m. in Bouligny Plaza (128 W. Main St.) in New Iberia, with the reading of proclamations from the state, parish, city of New Iberia, and city of New Orleans declaring Nov. 3, 2018 as Dr. Emma Wakefield-Paillet Day.

New Iberia Mayor Freddie Decourt welcomed guests to the event and Dr. Darrell Bourque (2007 Poet Laureate of Louisiana) read an original poem composed in honor of Dr. Wakefield-Paillet. The ceremony ended with the unveiling of the historical marker.

At 11 a.m. Iberia Parish President M. Larry Richard welcomed guests to a public reception at the Iberia Parish Courthouse (300 S. Iberia St., first floor) in recognition of the sesquicentennial anniversary of both Dr. Wakefield-Paillet’s birth and the founding of Iberia Parish. Harold Hayes and his band, The Sound Machine, provided live music. On display was an original painting by St. Martinville artist, Dennis Paul Williams, inspired by Dr. Wakefield-Paillet’s legacy.

At 2 p.m. visitors made their way to the old Essanee Theater (126 Iberia St.) for an afternoon of music and theater sponsored by the Iberia Performing Arts League (IPAL). Dr. Chan Kiat Lim (UL Lafayette Professor of Piano) performed a classical piano piece by an 18th century African American woman composer who, like Dr. Wakefield-Paillet, was almost lost to history. Dr. Lim accompanied vocalist Shawn Roy (also a member of the UL Lafayette School of Music faculty) on later pieces. Following the musical performances, Franklin native and playwright, Ed “Tiger” Verdin, opened his original playlet based on the full play he wrote in honor of Dr. Wakefield-Paillet. Cast members from Verdin’s theater company, Soulful Productions, were the actors. The full play will be released at a later date.

More Information:

For more information, contact Phebe Hayes, Ph.D., Founder & President, Iberia African American Historical Society at (337) 519-3957,, or visit the Iberia African American Historical Society's website and follow them on Facebook

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