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Women in Medicine and Science at Upstate

This guide provides information on female pioneers associated with Upstate and its predecessor institutions who left lasting impacts on medicine and science. Please check back regularly as we will continue to add influential women to this guide.

Eva Alma Thornton MD

Eva Alma Thornton MD was a physician who graduated from the Syracuse University College of Medicine in 1926. She was born in 1899 to Mary Jane and Augustus Thornton and grew up in Yonkers, NY. Her mother was a seamstress and her father worked for the federal government, and later as an undertaker. Thornton was Black, but was often mistaken for being white due to her fairer physical features. As this was the case, later in life she decided to pass as white in order to face less discrimination. Thornton as graduate

Thornton attended Hunter College for her undergraduate degree. When she later attended medical school, she was one of only three women in her class. After earning her medical degree, she interned at Albany Hospital in Albany, NY. She then taught at the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia for five years in the Department of Obstetrics. Deciding she wanted to change specialties, she gave up obstetrics and gynecology for psychiatric training at Philadelphia State Hospital and became a psychiatrist at Clark Summit State Hospital in PA. 

In 1948, she joined the Veterans Administration system (now known as the Department of Veteran Affairs) and she achieved the highest rank available at the regional hospital in Wilkes Barre, PA. Thornton was a charter member of the Modern Founders Club of the American Psychiatric Association, and in 1967, the governor of Pennsylvania honored her during “Women in Medicine Week”.

She lived a very solitary life and never married or had children. Thornton retired in 1978 and passed away in November of 1983. She bequeathed most of her assets to charity organizations and also gave over $300,000 to the Upstate Medical student scholarship fund.

Resources for Eva Alma Thornton MD


  • Health Sciences Library Resources: Fight on My Soul: a Biography, by James E.C. Norris. (Includes a chapter on Thornton as she was Norris' niece.)