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Young, Quentin, 1923-2016



  • Existence: 1923-2016


Dr. Quentin D. Young was a physician and a lifelong advocate and activist for social justice in healthcare policy.  He was born in 1923 in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois to Abe and Sarah Young and was a national figure in civil rights work, health care reform, anti-war protests, and many other liberal causes, working tirelessly to promote progressive causes for more than six decades.  Young was the personal physician to Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson, former Mayor of Chicago Harold Washington, author Studs Terkel, and Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn. He was married to Ruth Young (editor of Primavera, a feminist literary journal) until 2007, when she passed away.  Young had five children from his previous marriage: Nancy, Polly, Ethan, Barbara, and Michael Young. During his career, Young was active as a policymaker and was the founder and national chairman of the Medical Committee for Human Rights.  He was also the chair of medicine at Cook County Hospital from 1972 until 1981, founded the Health and Medicine Policy Research group with John McKnight in 1980, and served as president of the American Public Health Association in 1988.  He was a Clinical Professor of Preventive Medicine and Community Health at the University of Illinois Medical Center and Senior Attending Physician at Michael Reese Hospital and also edited the magazine, Health Rights News for many years. In 2008 Young retired from his private practice, and in 2009 he was appointed to chair the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board.

In 1936, at the age of 13, Young entered Hyde Park High School and quickly became a member of a progressive political group called the American Student Union, and he was also a member of the Young Communist League USA in his youth. After high school, Young attended the University of Chicago from 1940 to 1943 and served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1945. Upon being discharged, Young attended the Northwestern University Medical School, graduating in 1948, and subsequently interned at Cook County Hospital where he also did his residency. He received a Master’s of Science in Physiology degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1952.

In 1951, Young was a founder the Committee to End Discrimination in Chicago Medical Institutions to combat racist hiring practices rampant in the profession. In 1964, Young founded the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR), meant to provide medical care to civil rights workers and community activists involved in the “Freedom Summer,” a campaign to register African-American voters in Mississippi. This work introduced Young to Martin Luther King Jr., and he provided Dr. King with medical services whenever he was in Chicago in the 1960s. The MCHR was also involved in providing medical care to protesters involved in the 1968 Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Chicago. In October of 1968 Young was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee to testify on his knowledge about the DNC riots.

In 1972, Young was appointed chairman at Cook County Hospital during a tumultuous time when it was often viewed as a place fit only for the poor, and served mostly African-American patients.  Young was fired from Cook County Hospital in 1975 after his staff went on strike for almost a month protesting working conditions. While Young had advised against the strike, he did not impose any disciplinary action against his staff. He filed a lawsuit arguing that his termination was illegal because he was not informed why he was being fired, and was reinstated in his job a month later. Young’s tenure at Cook County Hospital finally ended in 1981.

In 1980, Quentin Young founded the Chicago-based Health & Medicine Policy Research Group, an organization that addresses the health needs in Illinois.  As of 2010, he remained in service as Chairman. During the 1980s, Young was a supporter and confidant of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, and was appointed President of the Chicago Board of Health. Young helped set up the Democratic Socialists of America in 1982, and continued to be a member, and also sat on the Board of Directors for the Illinois branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. In 1987 Young co-founded Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) to advocate and lobby for a single-payer healthcare system.  In 1988, he served as president of the American Public Health Association. In 2009 Young was listed as a National Coordinator for the group.  President Obama first met Young in 1995 when Obama was beginning his campaign for Illinois State Senate.  Both supported single-payer healthcare and became close, with Young serving as Obama’s personal physician for years.

Young worked with numerous organizations and boards towards better healthcare policy and healthcare reform. He fought for social justice in many forms, seeking equity for the underserved, underrepresented, and impoverished people everywhere. Throughout his career, he published many articles relating to healthcare reform, as well as newspaper editorials on these same topics, many of which can be found within the collection. In 2011 Young retired and lived in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. He continued to work with many healthcare-related causes, most notably as chair of the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board, and was an advocate for single-payer health insurance reform.

Dr. Young died on March 7, 2016, at the age of 92, in Berkeley, California.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Quentin Young Papers

Identifier: 31/6/107

Northwestern alumnus Dr. Quentin Young advocated for progressive policy reform in medicine throughout his career. His Papers fill 47 boxes, and document his life and the organizations he founded or was affiliated with.

Dates: 1912-2013; Other: Date acquired: 01/12/2009