Very little is known about her early life. She was born during the Civil War. Her parents were slaves in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, which made her a slave as well. After emancipation, her family moved to Atlanta, where she grew up and attended school. She originally intended to become a teacher, and attended Fisk University. It took her seven years to graduate because she took every other year off to work picking cotton and working other jobs to pay for her education.
Just before graduating from Fisk, she changed her focus to becoming a physician. She felt that it would be the best way she could serve her community for her to become a doctor instead of a teacher.
When I saw colored women doing all the work in cases of accouchement ... or, childbirth and all the fee going to some white doctor who merely looked on, I asked myself why should I not get the fee myself.She wrote to the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in December of 1890 inquiring about the cost of tuition and whether there was any work she could do. She was accepted into the school, but still had to work every other year to afford the costs. In 1897 she received her medical degree, and became one of the few African American women physicians in the US. Later that year, she made history as the first African American woman to apply for and receive a medical license in Georgia.
[S]ome of the best white doctors in the city have welcomed me and say that they will give me an even chance in the profession. That is all I ask.She worked to improve the conditions in the African American community. She struggled to establish and maintain a private practice, and supplemented her income by teaching at the Hospital and Training School for Nurses in Charleston, South Carolina.
In 1901, she attended the Tuskegee Negro Conference. Tragically, she contracted influenza in 1901, and was unable to continue seeing patients during her illness, which caused her financial strain and jeopardized her future. She reached out to help from many prominent African American and feminist leaders, but none were able to help her enough. Sadly, she died in 1902.
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National Library of Medicine
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