19th Century African American Female Physicians

19th Century African American Female Physicians
According to the Census Bureau, in 1890, 104,805 physicians practiced medicine in the United States, including 115 Black women and 909 Black men. By 1920, the number of physicians nationwide had grown to 144,977, and the number of Black male physicians had increased to 3,495, but the number of Black females had declined to 65. The decline was due in large part to a growing resistance to women practicing medicine (the number of white female physicians had also declined).1   Women faced what seemed like insurmountable obstacles when trying to gain admission to medical school. Aside from the sexism displayed by males of both races, African American women endured racism from their white counterparts. While some white women may have been accepted in all white schools, Black women often went to medical schools established for women. These schools were highly regarded in the profession but the number of schools were limited and the number of African Americans accepted was not numerous although each class generally enrolled 2-3 Black women.

Schools such as the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, the New England Female Medical College, and Philadelphia's Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania had been established for women so that they like their male counterparts could learn without the prejudice of fellow students and professors. To that end in the nineteenth century, the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania graduated more Black and Native American female doctors than other medical institutions.

Upon graduation, several physicians sought medical licenses in mostly southern states. They fought some of the same battles to become licensed as they had fought to enroll medical school. Dr. Lucy Manetta Hughes Brown, became the first Black female physician in North Carolina and also the editor of the first black medical journal the Hospital Herald.3 Dr. Artishia Garcia Gilbert was the first African American to pass the medical boards in Kentucky.4   Dr. Matilda Arabella Evans was the first African American woman to obtain a license in South Carolina.5  

These women and others had observed the lack of medical care given not only to former slaves but to Black people and poor people in general. The plight of people prompted many to become active in education, social work, suffrage, public health, missionary work and other civic endeavors.

Dr. Rebecca J. Cole was the co-founder of the Women’s Directory Center (1873) which provided free medical and legal services for poor women.6   Dr. Halle Tanner Dillon Johnson established a nurses’ training school in Tuskegee and the Lafayette Dispensary where she compounded her own medicines.

These are just five pioneering African American women, who struggled against the attitude towards women and the attitude towards African Americans, to overcome prejudices and leave a lasting legacy of service.

Physicians by Vanessa Northington Gamble Source: Black Women in America, Second Edition
Anderson, Caroline Virginia Still Wiley by Geraldine Rhoades Source: African American National Biography
3 Brown, Lucy Manetta Hughes by Geraldine Rhoades Beckford Source: African American National Biography
4 Notable Kentucky African Americans Database
5 Changing the Race of Medicine. Celebrating America’s Women Physician. U.S. National Library of Medicine Office of Research on Women’s Health
6 Contemporary Black Biography Gale Detroit MI 2003.

Black Women Physicians A - E

Mary Louise Brown (1868-1927)
Physician, Teacher

Mary Louise was born in 1868 in Baltimore, Maryland to John Mifflin Brown and Mary L. Lewis Brown. Her father was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the family frequently moved. Since this was during the time of Reconstruction, she and her eight siblings took advantage of the opportunities being afforded.1

She attended the Normal School for Colored Girls in Washington, D.C. and upon graduation began her teaching career, teaching English. Mary Louise attended Howard University Medical school at night graduating in 1898. In 1899 and 1900, she attended post graduate education at the University of Edinburgh. When she returned to the United States, she opened her practice at 1813 Vermont Avenue in the District of Columbia. Dr. Brown continued teaching and because of her advanced degree, she taught science, which raised her significantly. While teaching she often treated her students for free.

With the outbreak of World War I, Dr. Brown received a commission from the American Red Cross and left for France in 1918 to care for wounded soldiers. Women’s organizations such as the American Medical Women’s Association and National American Woman Suffrage Association lobbied for the commission and military service records. Women received the commission but not the military service records that had been accorded to men. At the time that she received the commission she was one of two Black women to do so, the other was Dr. Harriet Rice (1866-1958).2 While in France, she suffered both racism and the sexism. The sexism from the military and the racism from what the United States government told the French about black people until the French authorities retrieved the information published by the United States.2

Upon her return to the United States, she contued hr teaching and medical practice until her sudden death on March 9, 1927.

1 Mary Louise Brown https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Louise_Brown#CITEREFJensen2008 (Accessed July 13, 2021)
2 The untold story of women who risked their lives to do good – and get their rights. Opinion by Kate Clarke Lemay (Access July 13, 2021)


Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler (1831-1895)
Rebecca Davis, was born free in 1831 in Christiana, Delaware but was raised by an aunt in Philadelphia who provided nursing care to people of the neighborhood. By 1852, Rebecca was living in Charlestown, Massachusetts, where she worked as a nurse for eight years before she was admitted to the New England Female Medical College. Graduating in 1864, receiving her Doctress of Medicine, she became the first African-American woman to receive a medical degree and the school’s only black alumna.

Dr. Crumpler's first practice was in Boston but during Reconstruction she moved to Richmond to work with the Freedman’s Bureau and because she felt that it was “a proper field for real missionary work, and one that would present ample opportunities to become acquainted with the diseases of women and children. During my stay there nearly every hour was improved in that sphere of labor. The last quarter of the year 1866, I was enabled… to have access each day to a very large number of the indigent, and others of different classes, in a population of over 30,000 colored.”

After marrying, Arthur Crumpler, she had actively stopped practicing medicine. Not totally detached from the field, in 1883, she published “A Book of Medical Discourses’ in which she discussed her desire to become a physician was to relieve the suffering of others.

Dr. Crumpler died on March 9, 1895 in Fairview, Massachusetts.

In honor of her work in 1989, the first medical society for Black women was founded named the Rebecca Lee Society.
1 Kentake Page http://kentakepage.com/rebecca-davis-lee-crumpler-first-black-woman-awarded-a-medical-degree-in-the-united-states/ (Accessed November 20, 2019)

Black Women Physicians F - J

Sarah Helen McCurdy Fitzbutler (1847-1923)

Sarah Helen McCurdy was free born in Pennsylvania on October 13, 1847. Her father, a prosperous cattle and horse rancher moved the family to southern Ontario. In 1866, she married Henry Fitzbutler. Her husband went on to be the first African American to earn a degree from the University of Michigan.

With her children grown, Sarah entered the Louisville National Medical College and upon graduation became the first African American woman licensed in Kentucky. After Henry’s death in 1901, she continued her medical practice in obstetrics and gynecology. Dr. Fitzbutler became superintendent of the College’s auxiliary hospital on Madison Street, and also supervised the nursing program at the College. In Abraham Flexner’s 1909  inspection tour of medical schools and their facilities, he found her Hospital to be one of the cleanest and best run in the country.1
Towards the end of her life, she moved to Chicago, where some of her children were pursuing their own careers, and died on January 13, 1923.2

Image UofL School of Medicine https://louisville.edu/medicine/studentaffairs/student-involvement/advisory-colleges-1/fitzbutler-college
1 UofL School of Medicine Fitzbutler College http://louisville.edu/medicine/studentaffairs/student-involvement/advisory-colleges-1/fitzbutler-college (Accessed November 11, 2019)
2 The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia edited by Gerald L. Smith, Karen Cotton McDaniel, John A. Hardin University Press of Kentucky, c2015 page 182

Isabella Maude Garnett (August 22, 1872 – August 23, 1948)

Isabella was one of seven children born to Daniel F. Garnett and Hannah B. McDuffin Garnet in Evanston, Illinois. Her family was one of earliet African American settlers in Evanston in the community known as Ridgeland Village. Isabella did not attend high school but took classes in Minneapolis and then worked and studied at Provident Hospital in Chicago. She was awarded her medical degree in 1901 from Chicago’s College of Physicians and Surgeons becoming one of first African American women physicians in Illinois.

Initially, she worked on Chicago’s South Side but returned to Evanston in 1905 and married medical student Arthur Butler in 1907. During her return to Evanston, she practiced independently until 1909. Because of increasing segregation in 1910, all hospitals were closed to Blacks for non-emergency care. To meet the needs of the Black community, in 1914, she and her husband Dr. Arthur Butler, opened the Evanston Sanitarium and Training School on the upper floor of their 1918 Asbury Avenue residence in Evanston, Illinois, treating patients with acute diseases.1 The Sanitarium was the first medical center north of the Chicago Loop. With sudden death of her husband in 1924, Dr. Garnett continued to run the Sanitarium renaming it Butler Memorial Hospital.2
The Great Migration, 1910-1925, saw more segregation and a doubling of Evanston’s Black community. Butler Memorial was the only source of medical treatment to more than 5,000 African Americans.

In 1930, the hospital merged with The Booker T. Washington Association of Evanston and relocated to 2026 Brown Avenue, taking the name The Community Hospital of Evanston.3

Dr. Garnett retired from the hospital in 1945 and had hoped to continue her private practice but she completely retired in 1946. One day after her 76th birthday she died of complication of heart disease in the hospital she founded. Earlier in that year, a day of National Negro Health Week had been dedicated in her honor.4

Image Evanston Women's History Project https://evanstonwomen.org/woman/isabella-maude-garnett/
1 Along the Color Line. The Crisis. October 1914. p. 267.
2 Isabella Garnett  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isabella_Garnett#CITEREFPeterson2008 (Accessed January 19, 2021)
3 Ibid
4 https://wiki2.org/en/Isabella_Garnett (Accessed July 13, 2021)


Sarah Garland Boyd Jones (1866-1905)
Teacher, Physician

Sarah Boyd was born in Albemale County, Virginia to Ellen D. Boyd and George W. Boyd, a builder. Her father constructed the True Reformer building which was placed on the National Historic Register in 19891. After graduating from the Richmond Colored Normal School, she taught school in Richmond, where the family had relocated a number of years before. Sarah married Miles Berkley Jones, a teacher, in 1888 and could no longer teach as a married woman.  In 1890, she enrolled in Howard University Medical School, graduating in 1893 upon which she passed the Virginia Medical Examining Board’s examination and became the first woman of any race to be licensed in Virginia.2 Sarah received the highest scores in surgery, practice and hygiene of the eighty-six applicants.3

Dr. Jones and her husband, who also became a doctor, had thriving practices. She treated women and he treated men. Dr. Jones because of fair skin was thought not to be black. In 1898, her and her husband, founded a patient-care facility called the Women’s Central Hospital and Richmond Hospital which cared primarily to women.4 In 1902, she, her husband and other doctors started the Medical and Chirurgical Society of Richmond, since medical societies were not open to them. Seeing a need for a hospital open to blacks, Richmond Hospital was founded and a nursing school was also established. The name changed after incorporation, in 1912, to the Richmond Hospital Association and Medical College, and Training School for Nurses, Incorporated. Richmond Medical Society, which was renamed in 1922 as Sarah G. Jones Memorial Hospital, Medical College and Training School for Nurses was named in her honor in 1922.5

Dr. Jones died at her home on May 11, 1905. At the time of her death, she was the only African-American woman practicing medicine in the Commonwealth.6 

Image Changemakers https://edu.lva.virginia.gov/changemakers/items/show/97
1 Encyclopedia Virginia  https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Grand_Fountain_of_the_United_Order_of_True_Reformers
2 Woman’s Legacy: Essays on Race, Sex, and Class in American History. Bettina Aptheker University of Massachusetts Press, 1982, p. 99
4 Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Editors Darlene Clark Hine, Elsa Barkley Brown, Rasalyn Terborg-Penn. Indiana University Press, 1993, p. 654
5 https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Grand_Fountain_of_the_United_Order_of_True_Reformers
6 Find a Grave https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/38448937/sarah-garland-jones
Black Women Physicians K- O

Mary Susan Moore (1865-1965)

Mary Susan Moore was born in Chatham County, North Carolina. Dr. Moore received her medical degree from Meharry Medical Department of Central Tennessee College in 1898. She moved to Texas and becoming the first African American female physician in the state. In 1903, she and husband, Dr. James D. Moore opened a forty-bed hospital to serve the Black community in the city of Galveston. There was much opposition to this by residents and the local government, ordinances were enacted to stop this endeavor.  By 1907, the city of Galveston, repealed the ordinance and the Hubbard Sanitarium was opened. Dr. Moore and her husband maintained the hospital until 1925.

Dr. Moore died on August 22 1965.

Mary Susan Moore Medical Society https://marysusanmooremedicalsociety.org/ (Accessed January 19, 2021)



Lucy Ella Moten (1851-1933)
Educator and Physician

Lucy Moten was born in Fauquier County, Virginia to free parents, Benjamin and Julia, nee Withers, Moten. Her parents recognized her promise, so the family moved to Washington, D.C., for provide her better educational opportunities. She attended Howard University training as a teacher, and in 1870, she began teaching primary school. Graduating in 1875 from the State Normal School in Salem, Massachusetts, she returned to Washington, DC. Back in Washington, she pursued her dream of becoming the principal of the Miner Normal School. Frederick Douglass recommended her for the position but she initially turned down because despite her educational qualifications, the board said that her striking appearance and her character, were deemed not moral or strong enough to assume the position. After promising to give up her recreational activities such the theater, card playing and dancing, she appointed principal.1  
It was noted that during an examination of the school, that it was hard distinguish between the teachers and students due to the training that the students were receiving.2 With a desire to give her students, not only a quality education but she also wanted to educate them in hygiene, health and physiology. Lucy enrolled in Howard University Medical School, graduated in 1897, and established a health and hygiene program not only for the students but also as part of their teaching curriculum including lectures on childhood diseases.

As an educator, Dr. Moten travelled extensively in the United States and Europe, and graduates of the Miner Normal School, widely sought in the United States.

Dr. Moten never established a practice outside the School and retired in 1920, moving to New York City.

She struck by a car in Times Square and died on August 24, 1933. In her will, she left the sum $51,000, to Howard University and a school, was named in her honor.

 Image Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_Ella_Moten
1Notable American Women, 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary Volume 2 Gale Research Inc, Staff Editor Jessie Carney Smith 1992. ISBN 0674627342, pg. 591.
2 ”[The National Capital. A Bourbon Senator's Diatribe in Opposition to the Education Bill--Passage of” New York Globe April 12, 1884
Black Women Physicians P - T

Emma Wakefield-Paillet (1869-1946)