Columbia Psychiatry Remembers Dr. June Jackson Christmas
Letter to the community from Dr. Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, interim chair, Columbia Department of Psychiatry
It is with great sadness that I write to inform you of the passing of the esteemed Dr. June Jackson Christmas, a pioneering psychiatrist and a longtime clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia. Dr. Christmas, a trailblazer in the field, left an indelible mark on the landscape of psychiatry and public health.
Dr. Christmas' association with the Department was both profound and far reaching. She played a pivotal role in shaping the education and training of future generations of mental health professionals, and she was a role model and mentor to many.
Her legacy lives on in the Dr. June Jackson Christmas Program, named in her honor, that provides medical students from historically underrepresented groups in medicine with opportunities to engage in psychiatry research, clinical practice, and community outreach at Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Founded by our own Dr. Patrice Malone in 2016 when she was a psychiatry resident, the JJC Program, as it is known, stands as a testament to her dedication to fostering the next generation of psychiatrists and mental health professionals.
In her long career, Dr. Christmas, a psychoanalyst by training, founded the Harlem Rehabilitation Center, a community-based program, which trained local Harlem residents to assist psychiatric in-patients’ with reentry into society. This was one of the first programs to introduce “community liaison workers” to work with patients. During the 1970s, she served as New York City’s Commissioner of Mental Health under Mayors Lindsay, Beame, and Koch. Among her many accomplishments, she was also a member of President Jimmy Carter’s transition team; a founder of the Urban Issues Group, a research institute; the first Black woman to serve as president of the American Public Health Association of NYC; and cofounder of the American Psychiatric Association Committee on Black Psychiatrists.
Born in Boston in 1924 and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Dr. Christmas faced racial and gender bias from an early age, experiences that shaped her determination to combat such prejudice through her work. She earned a B.S. in zoology from Vassar College and her medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine. She completed her psychiatric residencies at Bellevue Hospital and Queens General Hospital, and also received a certificate in psychoanalysis from the William Alanson White Institute.
Dr. Christmas remained actively involved with her community until her death from heart failure at age 99. Until 2022, she met and engaged with participants in the JJC Program, imparting invaluable insights into her psychiatry experiences, encompassing both triumphs and obstacles. Her steadfast dedication to civil rights and unwavering pursuit of equity and justice remained central themes throughout her interactions, underscoring the broader impact that public health initiatives can have on fostering mental wellbeing by addressing systemic issues.
We extend our deepest condolences to Dr. Christmas' family, friends, and colleagues. We share in the grief of her passing and express our gratitude for the immeasurable impact she has had on the field of psychiatry and the lives of those she touched, and the enduring legacy through the Dr. June Jackson Christmas Medical Student Program.
Learn more about Dr. Christmas and Columbia Psychiatry's JJC Program:
Building Better Representation in Psychiatry’s Ranks (JJC program)
June Jackson Christmas, Pioneering Psychiatrist, Dies at 99 (New York Times obituary)