Justina Ford, 1871-1952

  • Justina-Ford-WWP

Woman Category: HealthWoman Tags: African-American Women and Physician

  • HerStory

    The first licensed African-American female doctor in Denver, Colorado.

    Justina was born in Knoxville, Illinois. Her interest in medicine began at a young age playing “hospital,” dissecting frogs, inventing disease names, and accompanying her mother, who was a nurse, to see patients. After high school, she began to study medicine at Hering Medical School in Chicago. There, she met John Ford, a Baptist minister, and the couple got married in 1892. At 28, after graduating from medical school, she went to pay for the license, but the examiner denied her application for being a woman and African-American.
     
    Ford worked in a hospital in Alabama for two years before they relocated to Denver, Colorado, where she was finally given a medical license – and became the first licensed African American female doctor in the city. Because of her race, she was not allowed to work in hospitals or join the state’s medical association, so she opened a private practice in her home and made house visits to see patients, practicing mainly gynecology, obstetrics, and pediatrics. Ford treated anyone in need, regardless of race, gender, or citizenship. The majority of her patients were African-Americans, poor whites, and immigrants who did not speak English or could not afford to go to the hospital. With no money to pay for her services, her patients often exchanged produce, household items, and maintenance work.
     
    In 1950, at the age of 79, Ford was permitted to join the Colorado Medical Association as well as the American Medical Associations and became a member of the Denver Medical Society. After 48 years of running her practice, she began to work at the Denver General Hospital, still the only female African American doctor in Denver. She continued to practice medicine until two weeks before she died, at the age of 81.
     


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • Her parents were former slaves.
    • She attended an integrated high school.
    • She was called “The Baby Doctor” by her patients.
    • She learned multiple languages to help treat her patients.
    • She delivered nearly 7,000 babies during her career, and people who were delivered by her referred to themselves as members of the “Justina Baby Club.”
    • She used to buy coal and groceries for her patients with financial issues.
    • In 1915, she divorced her first husband, and in her 50’s, she got married for the second time.
      She never had children of her own.
    • She was the subject of an episode of PBS’s “The Colorado Experience.”
    • Her home in Five Points, Denver, was converted into the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center (1988).
    • A sculpture of her, made by Jess E. DuBois, was erected outside her house in Five Points, Denver (1998).
    • The Justina Ford Medical Society at The University of Colorado is named in her honor.
  • More About Her Legacy
    Awards:

    * The Human Rights Award from Denver's Cosmopolitan Club (1951)
    * Inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame (1985)
    * Named a "Medical Pioneer of Colorado" by the Colorado Medical Society (1989)

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • I AM DENVER: Justina Ford, the 'Mother Teresa of Five Points'

    Justina Ford was Denver's first African-American female doctor, but it took her nearly a lifetime of work to be recognized by her professional peers. Despite earning a medical degree from a college in Illinois and delivering more than 7,000 babies, she was not allowed to care for patients inside Denver hospitals. She treated patients insider her own home and made house visits around the city. The Martinez family remembers her caring for all seven siblings and their mother for a period of time.

    Watch this video to learn more about Dr. Justina Ford's legacy and influence in Denver.

    ► Discover more on the I Am Denver story site:
    https://www.denvergov.org/content/denvergov/en/i-am-denver/stories/drag-history-denver.html
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  • Photo credit - Wikipedia

  • Citations and Additional References:
    Colorado Women's Hall of Fame website.
    Wikipedia page.


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