Dr. Muriel PetioniDR. MURIEL PETIONI

Known as Harlem’s “Mother of Medicine,” Dr. Muriel Petioni left an indelible legacy of knowledge and compassion that continues to touch and inspire the community and beyond.

Muriel Petioni was born in Trinidad on New Year’s Day, 1914. She arrived in Harlem in 1919. Her father, Charles Augustin Petioni, was already there having decided on a medical career. He studied at Howard University and became a doctor in 1925. Muriel would follow suit. The family had a brownstone at 114 W. 131st street that served as both home and office.

After studying at NYU and Howard University, Muriel Petioni received her M.D. in 1937 as the only woman in her class. She interned at Harlem Hospital where her father had worked years before.

She had residencies at Homer G. Philips and Wilberforce University before marrying Tuskegee Airman Mallalieu Woolfolk and settling in Chicago. Their son, Charles was born in 1947. But Harlem was calling and, three years later, Dr. Petioni was back.

For the next 40 years, she served as a physician and activist. She was “the people’s doctor.” “I became a community physician for anyone who needed help in my space. I was nice and people needed niceness,” she said in a 2011 Amsterdam News interview.

Dr. Petioni founded Friends of Harlem Hospital (FOHH) in 1987 and helped raise more than $1.8M to stabilize and improve the institution. An advocate for advancing women in medicine, she founded the Susan Smith McKinney Steward Medical Society for Women and was a founding member of the Coalition of 100 Black Women through which she mentored medical students. 

Dr. Muriel Petioni passed away on December 19, 2011, but the work of this tireless and irreplaceable pillar of the Harlem medical community lives on through the FOHH, the numerous boards and committees she chaired, the Dr. Muriel Petioni Clinic in Sierra Leone, and now the Dr. Muriel Petioni Champion of Diversity Award.