For years I’ve wanted to visit the Black American West Museum (BAWM). Last Tuesday, I finally set foot inside Dr. Justina Ford’s historic home, where the museum’s collection is now located.BAWM (Black American West Museum) exterior Denver Aug 2009

Justina Ford was Denver’s first female doctor, as well as the city’s first female African-American doctor. She was the only female doctor in Denver from 1902 until at least 1930. She graduated from Chicago’s Hering Medical School in 1899, quite a feat for a woman in those days.

(Elizabeth Blackwell, the first American woman to earn a medical degree, graduated in 1849. According to, “In 1864 Rebecca Lee became the first black female to receive such a degree when she graduated from the New England Female Medical College [now Boston University School of Medicine].” There are several African-American men credited with various firsts in medicine: James Derham was the first to formally practice medicine in the United States, in the late 1700s, but he did not have a degree.).

After Ford’s house was threatened with demolition in the early 1980s and then preserved with the help of neighbors and the BAWM, it was moved from 2335 Arapahoe to its current location at 3091 California (near the Downing and 30th station on light rail). The downstairs room where I watched a movie about the black pioneer town of Dearfield, Colorado (more on that later this week) was her office, and she slept downstairs in order to hear patients ringing the doorbell in the middle of the night. Her husband slept upstairs.

Dr. Ford said she had delivered 7,000 babies during her years as a practicing physician. She treated patients at her home, and if they needed services she could not provide there, she sent them to Denver Health Medical Center. If they mentioned they had seen Ford, however, the hospital would not treat them (at least, in the early part of her career).Toward the end of her career, she was awarded hospital privileges, but until then, she cared for the underprivileged at her home.


In the next installment of this series, I’ll talk about found BAWM founder Paul Stewart’s search for memorabilia relating to black cowboys. Historically, about one-third of cowboys were black, one-third were Latino, and one-third were white. I’m not sure what percentage of cowboys and cowgirls were American Indian, but some Indian tribes, such as the Navajos, began running sheep and cattle on their lands soon after the Spanish introduced those animals to North America in the 1500s.

I’m unfamiliar with the history of Asian Americans in ranching, but the website of the Oregon Historical Society has this to say: “According to the 1890 census, there were 55 non-white stock raisers, herders, and drovers in Oregon. This number included African Americans as well as Chinese, Japanese, and Native Americans.”

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  1. […] “There’s no such thing as a black cowboy,” Paul W. Stewart was told as a boy. But years later, as an adult, he met a black cowboy, which inspired him to scour the American West for evidence of their existence. The artifacts he collected can be viewed at the Black American West Museum (BAWM), which he founded in 1971. In the 1980s, his collection came to rest in Justina Ford’s house. […]

  2. Mary August 22, 2009 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    Beth, thanks for the great write up on this. 7,000 babies! That’s almost a baby a day for 20 years.
    .-= Mary´s last blog ..When do we get to go to another park?: Weekend Doggie Double =-.

  3. Beth August 23, 2009 at 8:38 pm - Reply

    Yeah, it is a lot of babies. And they tend to come in the middle of the night.

  4. […] and Caribbean cooking. When I stopped there for lunch a couple of weeks ago, after a visit to the Black American West Museum, three tables were […]