Susan Smith McKinney Steward, 1847-1918

  • Susan-Smith-McKinney-Steward-WWP

Woman Category: Activism & Feminism and HealthWoman Tags: 19th Amendment Centennial Anniversary, Abolitionist, African-American Women, NYC Women, Physician, and Suffragist

  • HerStory

    The third African-American woman to earn a medical degree, and the first in New York State.

    Susan Maria Smith was born into an elite family of ten children. Her parents were pork farmers in Weeksville, one of America’s first free black communities, today’s Crown Heights Brooklyn. She was trained as an organist from an early age, performed and taught. With the proceeds of her teaching, she paid her tuition at the New York Medical College for Women. She started medical school just a few years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
    Graduating in 1870, McKinney Steward was one of the first black women to earn a medical degree and became Brooklyn’s first black woman physician. Her medical career focused on prenatal care and childhood disease. She had a slow start when she first opened a medical practice at her home, facing racial and gender-based skepticism. As her reputation grew, she founded the Women’s Hospital and Dispensary in Brooklyn (Memorial Hospital for Women and Children) and co-founded Brooklyn Women’s Homeopathic Hospital staffed entirely by women (renamed the Memorial Hospital for Women and Children).
    In addition to her medical activity and entrepreneurship, she was active for the black community and women’s suffrage: hosted an exhibition of artists of color in her home, was a member of the African-American Brooklyn Literary Union, co-founder of the Women’s Loyal Union, and president of Brooklyn Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
    She was married twice – both times to ministers – and had two children. With her second husband, she left Brooklyn and moved through several remote army bases until the couple settled in Wilberforce University in Ohio. When she died on March 1918, she was buried in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery and eulogized by Dr. W.E.B Du Bois.

    “She could strike, and strike hard, in what she believed to be a righteous cause”


    – Hallie Quinn Brown in her eulogy –

    “She could strike, and strike hard, in what she believed to be a righteous cause”


    – Hallie Quinn Brown in her eulogy –

    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She served as the organist for the Bridge Street A. M. E. Church for 28 years.
    • She was a talented public speaker, delivering two memorable speeches: “Colored Women in America” at the first Universal Race Congress at the University of London (1911), and “Women in Medicine,” at the 1914 National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs Convention.
    • To celebrate her legacy, Brooklyn’s Middle School #265 was renamed Susan Smith McKinney Junior High; and Susan Smith McKinney Steward Medical Society was founded by African-American women doctors in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.


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  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • The Life of Dr Susan Smith McKinney

    Looking back on the first African American female physician in the state of New York, and the 3rd in the country.

  • Photo credit - Wikipedia.