Today, Day 4 of Black History Month, I’m building on the history of Day 2, where we learned about Eliza Ann Grier, the first black woman physician in the state of Georgia. Today, please meet Susan McKinney Steward, the third African American woman to earn a medical degree, and the first in the state of New York.
Susan McKinney Steward was born Susan Maria Smith in Weeksville, now Brooklyn, New York in 1847. Susan was born into an elite family (her father was a wealthy pig farmer), and was of European, African, and Shinnecock Indian descent. Susan grew up during the cholera epidemic in Brooklyn and suffered the death of her brothers during the Civil War. These events formed her desire to become a licensed physician.
At age 20, Susan enrolled in New York Medical College and Hospital for Women and graduated as Valedictorian in 1923. Susan concentrated her studies on homeopathic and pediatric medicines and had her own practice from 1870-1895. Susan co-founded the Brooklyn Women’s Homeopathic Hospital and Dispensary, which serviced the African American community.
Upon Susan’s second marriage to Rev. Theophilus Gould Steward, she would travel west and earn her medical licenses in both Montana and Wyoming. Susan and the Rev. Steward would find themselves back on the east coast by 1898 in Ohio, and Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Steward was hired as the resident physician and faculty member, teaching health and nutrition, at Wilberforce University. In 1914, Dr. McKinney Steward presented a paper titled, “Women In Medicine” that purported that women did not require separate medical schools and should have equal opportunities for internships.
Susan died in 1918 and was eulogized by many prominent Americans of the time, including W.E.B. DuBois and a Wilberforce friend and colleague, Hallie Q. Brown. Brown’s eulogy included the following, “She was one of those generous natures that love peace, order, and harmony. But she could strike, and strike hard, in what she believed to be a righteous cause. With her it was justice on one side, and injustice on the other.”