“A HEART for HARLEM”: Elizabeth Bishop Davis

Meet the face of our newest alum pin, Elizabeth Bishop Davis ’41. To pick up a pin, stop by the Barnard Library!



Elizabeth Bishop Davis was born on April 26, 1920 in New York City, where her dad, Rev. Shelton Hale Bishop, an Episcopal clergyman, was Rector of St. Philip’s
Church in Harlem. She graduated from Barnard College in 1941 and received her M.D. from the College of Physicians & Surgeons, Columbia University, in 1949.


As a first-year medical student in 1946, Davis launched Harlem’s first mental health facility, the LaFargue Clinic. The clinic was housed in the basement of the church and was conceived by novelist Richard Wright and psychotherapist Fredric Wertham.The clinic operated two evenings a week, during which volunteer psychiatrists and social workers counseled the predominantly African American patients. Service was free unless patients were able to cover the 25 cent fee per session.


After graduating from P&S with “glowing assessments from the faculty,” Dr. Davis interned at Harlem Hospital, gaining early practical experience, and completed her residency at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia’s Psychoanalytic Clinic.” She was then hired as a therapist by the Harlem’s Northside Center for Child Development in 1953. No later, in 1955, she became a certified psychoanalyst from Columbia’s Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. Davis also maintained a private practice alongside her association with an outpatient clinic at Harlem Hospital throughout the 1950s. She later joined Columbia’s Clinical Faculty in 1957 and was appointed founding director of Harlem Hospital’s new Department of Psychiatry and assistant professor of clinical psychiatry in 1962. Moreover, she was considered for tenure a decade later. The director of Bellevue’s psychiatric division, Alexander Thomas, MD wrote:

“Under her initiative and guidance this service has become one of the outstanding service, teaching, and training centers in the city, able to recruit and retain high caliber staff and to develop innovative service and training programs,”

She also became a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in 1971 and a Professor Emerita later in 1978 after retiring from work at the hospital. By then, the Harlem’s Hospital Department of Psychiatry expanded to encompass an adult inpatient unit, a day hospital, a greatly expanded outpatient clinic with specialty clinics for alcohol and substance abuse, a geriatric clinic, a large social and vocational rehabilitation service, a children’s service with inpatient beds, a children’s day hospital with a public school and recreation program, and a fully accredited psychiatric residency training program.

Alongside her contributions to the field of medicine, she was also an honorary member of the Beth Israel Board of Trustees.

Dr. Davis died in New York City on February 1 of 2010 at the humble age of 89. She died a widow of former head of Beth Israel, Ray E. Trussell, MD.


In her more than 30-year psychiatry career, Davis pursued research in the use of psychoanalysis, addressing racial and income disparities in caring for the mentally ill, and community-based care, among other topics. Her papers include “Mental Health Services for the Inner City” and “Blacks as Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists as Blacks: Options for the Future,” and footage exists of a television segment that she participated in, “Can Psychiatry Help Reduce Racial Tensions?”


To learn more about Elizabeth Bishop Davis Trussell, MD., visit The New York Public Library Archives at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division and Archives and Special collections at the Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). A collection of her work, which she donated to the University, are also in the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library at Columbia University Medical Center.

Aziza Rahman ’20


Anne, Leslie. “Bishop/Carey Family Photo Album – Featuring Dr. Elizabeth Bishop Davis.” Lost Family Treasures, Blogger, May 26, 2011, accessed July 9, 2018, https://lostmementos.blogspot.com/2011/05/bishopcarey-family-photo-album.html.

Davis, Elizabeth Bishop M.D. “Elizabeth Davis Papers.” Archives & Special Collections, Columbia University Health Sciences Library, accessed July 9, 2018, http://library-archives.cumc.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/finding-aids/Davis%20web%20version.pdf.

Shapiro, Gary. “Ask Alma’s Owl: Community Mental Health.” Columbia News, Office of Communications and Public Affairs, November 15, 2017, accessed July 9, 2018, http://news.columbia.edu/bishopdavis.

Tregaskies, Sharon. “A Heart for Harlem: Elizabeth Bishop Davis, MD, 1920-2010.” Columbia Medicine, Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Spring/Summer 2016, accessed July 9, 2018, http://www.columbiamedicinemagazine.org/features/spring-2016/women%E2%80%94long-denied-role-ps%E2%80%94helped-shape-medicine-20th-century.


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