A Daughter’s Journey to Fulfill a Father’s Legacy

By Yvonne S. Thornton, M.D., MPH
With Anita Bartholomew

“There is nothing like a dream to create the future.” – Victor Hugo

President Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey counted themselves among the thousands of ardent fans of Dr. Yvonne Thornton’s beloved bestseller, THE DITCHDIGGER’S DAUGHTERS (1995), which eventually became a movie. Now she continues the remarkable true story in SOMETHING TO PROVE: A Daughter’s Journey to Fulfill a Father’s Legacy (Kaplan Publishing, January 2011) as the first of the Thornton sisters to become a physician and the first African-American woman in the country to become a double-Board Certified specialist in obstetrics, gynecology and maternal-fetal medicine.

Dr. Thornton tells the story of her amazing father who moved his wife and daughters from the tenements in Harlem to a small house in New Jersey that he built with his own hands from materials bought on a ditchdigger’s salary. Donald Thornton cherished a mighty dream – that all of his daughters would become medical doctors, respected professionals in white coats and “scripperscrappers” (stethoscopes) – a designation he believed would shield them from the pernicious specter of prejudice. To pay for their educations, he began the all-girl Thornton Sisters band and taught them how to work hard: his girls went to school during the day, studied at night and played gigs on the college circuit every weekend.

SOMETHING TO PROVE picks up where the first memoir left off with the passing of Yvonne’s beloved father, Donald Thornton, and the beginning of Yvonne’s career as an assistant professor at The New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. It was there that Dr. Thornton established and developed the program for a new form of early prenatal diagnostic testing known as CVS (chorionic villus sampling) that is in common use today. As Director of Clinical Services at Cornell, Dr. Thornton was consigned to the sub-basement with no operating budget and expected to teach, run the clinic and establish a private practice.

Remembering her father’s teachings never to give up and to “build her own house,” Dr. Thornton found ways to improve the clinic and bring better care to her patients. She handled the most difficult – and often frightening – medical cases, including a baby born outside the womb, while dealing with a prejudiced and stifling bureaucracy. Turning to her orthopedic surgeon husband for support, Dr. Thornton pushed herself to her limits to be there for her patients, her husband and their two children.

After years of being passed over for promotions and opportunities, Dr. Thornton left Cornell to establish one of the first prominent centers for Perinatal Diagnostic Medicine at Morristown Memorial Hospital under her beloved mentor. It was an ideal position until her mentor’s retirement, which led her to an appointment that finally shattered the glass ceiling of medical academia and made her one of only 12 percent of female physicians to attain the academic rank of full professor.

Interweaving the challenges and triumphs of family life with her professional joys and sorrows, Dr. Thornton paints a vivid portrait of a woman who exceeds her father’s dreams and sees that dream live on in her own son and daughter as they extend the family legacy by entering the fields of neurosurgery and reconstructive surgery, building upon the bedrock foundation Donald and Itasker Thornton built with their very own hands.

A Daughter’s Journey to Fulfill a Father’s Legacy
By Yvonne S. Thornton, M.D.
Kaplan Publishing, January 2011
$24.99; 272 pages
ISBN: 978-1-60714-724-4