- Overcame major obstacles in order to practice medicine
- Only female doctor in Denver for at least the first three decades of the 20th century
Justina Ford was born in Knoxville, Illinois in 1871. Her mother was a nurse and helped people in their neighborhood, and Ford often accompanied her. As Justina got older, she wanted to be a doctor. Her family helped save the money for her to attend the Hering Medical College in Chicago; it was a new school with a homeopathic philosophy, which may partly explain why they accepted an African-American woman.
In Chicago, Justina married the Rev. Dr. John Elijah Ford in 1892 and graduated from medical school in 1899. She began practicing medicine there but in 1900 her husband was assigned to the Zion Baptist Church in Denver. In 1902 Justina was able to follow him.
When she applied for her Colorado medical license, she was initially turned down. The examiner said: “You have two strikes against you. First of all, you’re a lady, and second, you’re colored.” She eventually got her license, but there were still obstacles. Denver General Hospital had a policy against treating black patients and did not permit black physicians to base themselves there. Dr. Ford, who specialized in pediatrics, gynecology, and obstetrics, set up a practice in her home.
As it happened, the “Lady Doctor,” as she was known, filled a huge need. Immigrants and the poor were often turned away from the hospital, but Ford accepted all who came to her. The majority of patients came to her for checkups, minor illness, and obstetrical care. By the time she retired, Ford estimated she had delivered some 7,000 babies.
She learned to speak several languages, and if a patient had no money, she accepted what they could offer in trade. Often patients had nothing at all, and Ford sent them home with food, blankets, or coal.
After 33 years in Denver, she was invited to join the faculty at Denver General Hospital. She continued to be denied membership in the Denver Medical Society, the Colorado Medical Society, and the American Medical Association. Two years before her death, in 1952, Ford was finally granted admission to the local Medical Association and honored for her service to Denver’s working class communities.
Her home was slated for destruction but was saved and relocated. It now houses Denver’s Black American West Museum.
Just before she died, Ford summed up her life’s work: “…When all the fears, hate, and even some death is over, we will really be brothers as God intended us to be in this land. This I believe. For this I have worked all my life.”
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