Susan McKinney Steward was the first African-American physician in the state of New York and the third in the entire nation. Not only was she a stunningly intelligent doctor, but was also a passionate musician and an accomplished author. She was able to balance her demanding career but still manage to be a caring wife and mother as well as be very involved in her church. Although she faced much ridicule for entering what was considered to be a “man’s work”, she never stopped proving that she was very qualified and entitled to every accomplishment that she had.
Susan was born in Brooklyn to Sylvanus and Anne Smith on March 18th, 1847. She was the seventh out of ten children and was of European, Shinnecock Indian, and African heritage. Her parents were successful porn merchants and were considered to be elite in their black community. As a child she learned how to plan the organ from Henry and John Zundel and preformed at Bridge Street African Methodist Episcopal Church and Brooklyn's Siloam Presbyterian Church.
Susan was not the only success story in her family however because her sister, Sarah J.Garrett was the first African-American female principal in the New York City public school system. After finishing high school Susan moved to Washington D. C. to teach so she could save money to pay for medical school. It is believed that her inspiration to enter the medical field was when she nursed her sick niece back to health after the cholera struck New York in 1866 that cause over a thousand people to die. Once she has a sufficient amount of money she enrolled at New York Medical College for Women in 1867.
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Susan was known for always being one to study assiduously and vigorously even though male medical students from the Bellevue Hospital often harassed her. After specializing in homeopathic medicine she graduated three years later as the class valedictorian. Later she completed grad school Long Island College School. After her graduation in Long Island, Susan returned to Brooklyn and began accepting clients in her home. She slowly became more popular due to her great skill and once she had a big enough clientele, she opened an office in Manhattan.
Susan married William McKinney, a minister, and gave birth to two children soon after. She then wrote two medical papers about a sick pregnant woman and infected infants. Before long, Susan began specializing in children disease. After the death of her husband William in 1892, Susan remarried a soldier named Theophilus Steward two years later and moved around the country with him to different military bases. While at the bases, Susan would treat injured soldiers until Theophilus retired in 1907.
Susan began writing many medical papers and reduced her amount of clients as she began to age. She died on March 7th, 1918 and was buried in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. After he death, a Brooklyn school was renamed the Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Junior High School after he grandson insister in 1975 and in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, the Susan Smith McKinney Steward Medical Society was founded in her honor. Susan Steward was and always will be once of the most inspirational women in history due to her perseverance and remarkable intelligence.
During a time when women, especially those of African-American descent, had little importance in society other than serving as wives and mothers, she rose above the prejudice and stereotypes and proved that it matters not where you came from, but where you end up. Her legacy lives not only in New York where she was the first woman physician but also to women all over the world.
- "Susan M. Steward, Pioneer in Medicine. " The Black Box. African American Registry, n. d. Web. 18 Nov. 2012.
- "Susan McKinney Steward Biography. " Susan McKinney Steward Biography.
- Lakewood Public Library, n. d. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. .
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