Catharine Lealtad was born in 1895; her father worked as a preacher in St. Paul. She graduated as the Valedictorian from her high school and enrolled at Macalester in 1911. At the time, the college offered a one year full scholarship to high school valedictorians. At the end of her first year, her father decided he could not afford to keep her at Macalester so she wrote to the registrar to transfer her credits to the University of Minnesota and in response, the college offered her a full four year scholarship. She graduated in 1915 with a double major in chemistry and history with highest honors. After graduating from Macalester, she went on to teach in Columbus, Ohio for a year. Then she worked at the Young Women’s Christian Association and the Urban League in New York. She attended Cornell University for medical school, but left after a short time because of the racism and prejudice she faced there. She moved to France to study medicine where she was one of three women in a class of 200. She received her medical degree from the University of Paris in 1933, specializing in pediatrics. In 1945, Lealtad was commissioned as a Major in the United States Army and was deployed to Germany where she cared for children in displaced persons’ camps. The following year, Lealtad went to China with the United States Public Health Service and assisted doctors in fighting the cholera outbreak sweeping through the country.
After her deployment, Lealtad returned to New York City and worked on the pediatric unit at Sydenham Hospital, which was the first voluntarily interracial hospital and the first hospital to hire black physicians in New York City. She worked in New York City until her retirement in 1979. Despite being retired, she continued to work at a mission hospital in Puerto Rico and later spent seven years working at a free clinic in Mexico City. She returned to the United States and lived in New York until her death in 1989. She was 93 years old.
Lealtad is the only Macalester graduate to receive two honorary degrees from Macalester. Her first degree is “Doctor of Science” and her second is “Doctor of Humane Letters” for her lifelong commitment to social justice and care for her patients. She set up an endowment scholarship in 1983, named the “Catharine Lealtad Scholarships,” which is open to students of color every year. On Macalester’s campus, the Lealtad-Suzuki Center, opened in 2002 and named after her and Esther Suzuki, provides crucial multicultural education through the Department of Multicultural Life.