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Susan Smith McKinney Steward, M.D. '1870 (1847-1918)

First African-American woman to earn a medical degree in New York state

Susan Smith McKinney-Steward, M.D. '1870
School of Medicine

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Born: 1847
Died: March 7, 1918

When Susan Smith McKinney-Steward, M.D., graduated valedictorian from the New York Medical College for Women in 1870, she was the first African-American woman to ever earn a medical degree in New York state, and the third in the United States.

Dr. Smith was of mixed heritage, her father of African descent and her mother was the daughter of a French officer and a Shinnecock woman. Dr. Smith started attending the medical school just a few years after the Emancipation Proclamation. After graduation, Dr. Smith McKinney-Steward practiced medicine in Brooklyn and Manhattan, specializing in prenatal care and childhood diseases.  She founded The Women's Hospital and Dispensary in Brooklyn which later became The Memorial Hospital for Women and Children.  She was a member of the Kings County and New York State Homeopathic Medical Societies and served as an official physician for the Brooklyn Home for Aged Colored People (now Brooklyn Home for the Aged), one of the early medical institutions in Weeksville, Brooklyn, where Dr. Smith McKinney-Steward was born. She also practiced at New York Medical College and Hospital for Women in Manhattan.

Dr. Smith McKinney-Steward earned medical licenses in Montana and Wyoming after spending several years traveling in these states with her husband, Theophilus Gould Steward, an ordained minister and U.S. Army chaplain. Dr. McKinney-Steward later joined Wilberforce University in Ohio as a resident physician and faculty member teaching health and nutrition.

She was an accomplished public speaker and in 1911 addressed the first Universal Race Congress at the University of London, England, with a presentation “Colored Women in America.”  She later gave a speech, “Women in Medicine,” at the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs Convention. Dr. Smith McKinney-Steward’s was also involved in local missionary work and women’s suffrage advocacy, and was president of the Brooklyn Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

Dr. McKinney-Steward passed away at the age of 71 on March 17, 1918, in Brooklyn. Notable author W.E.B. DuBois gave the eulogy at her funeral, and she was laid to rest in her birth town in the New York City borough of Brooklyn at Green-Wood Cemetery. Junior high school 265 in Brooklyn, Dr. Susan S. McKinney Secondary School of The Arts, is named in her honor. In 1976, black women physicians in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, named their chapter of the National Medical Association in her honor.