Health-Care Access for Low-Income People of Color and Pruitt-Igoe

The Pruitt-Igoe high-rise housing projects were developed in the 1950s as a response to slums and overcrowded living in the city of St. Louis and the flight of white middle-class families to the suburbs. However, the state neglected to maintain the buildings or provide services to the majority low-income black community, and so the projects began to decay.

Below is an excerpt from an article in Washington University’s 1969 edition of Outlook magazine, which covered a response to some of the growing health concerns in the Pruitt-Igoe projects:

During discussions between members of the Men’s Progressive Club and medical students and faculty from Washington University, it was learned that there was no individual or facility within two miles of the project that was equipped to treat the sick and injured. Public transportation to city hospitals was poor and a visit to either institution involved a whole day lost from work. Ambulance response to calls from Pruitt-Igoe was reported to be slow at best. Residents pointed out that the children were faced with hazardous play conditions and suffered a large number of minor injuries which went untreated. It was requested that an immunization program be established.

During these discussions the medical personnel were able to convince the members of the Men’s Club that their concern and commitment were genuine. A working relationship was established which led to the formal initiation of the Pruitt-Igoe Medical Action Program on May 18, 1968.

Approximately 30 doctors and 120 medical students have volunteered to serve in Pruitt-Igoe.

The stated purposes of the Medical Action Program are to provide limited medical care and services, medical education and training for the residents of Pruitt-Igoe. Medical services include patient referrals and transportation to Barnes and City

Hospitals when extensive care is needed. Those participating hope that one day the Pruitt-Igoe facility may be one of many community based and administered satellite stations which perform medically related social functions, preventive medical care, first aid, initial screening, and provide expedited entry into the existing medical system.

For freely accessible access to the complete article, see :


Letter from the Urban League of St. Louis stating the need for seed money in order to start a medical clinic in Pruitt-Igoe. From the St. Louis Urban League Records, WUSTL Archives.


Part of the Pruitt-Igoe Research Project done under the Missouri Division of Welfare, showing the many medical problems women faced. From the St. Louis Urban League Records, Series 2, Box 13, at WUSTL Archives.


The government failed to maintain the high-rise projects they built. Although the residents were often stigmatized and blamed for the problems Pruitt-Igoe faced, they were the victims of government neglect. St. Louis Post-Dispatch clipping from Mayor Poelker Records, at WUSTL Archives.


Pruitt-Igoe was ultimately shutdown and demolished. The projects became nationally known for their failure. From the Mayor Poelker records, WUSTL Archives

For additional materials related to the history of Pruitt-Igoe, available at the Washington University Special Collections, see:


About the author

Miranda Rectenwald is Curator of Local History, Washington University Special Collections. More info.