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.
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 encyclopedia.com, “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.”