Susan M. Steward, pioneer in medicine

Susan M. Steward
Thu, 1847-03-18

*The birth of Susan McKinney Steward in 1847, is celebrated on this date. A physician, she was one of the first Black women to earn a medical degree, and the first in New York State.

Born Susan Maria Smith in Brooklyn, she trained and performed as an organist, as a child. Her early training qualified her for teaching positions and she taught school in Washington, D.C., and New York City, using the proceeds of her New York teaching to pay tuition for medical school. McKinney-Steward began medical study at the New York Medical College for Women in 1867. She specialized in homeopathic medicine and, after three years, graduated as class valedictorian.

After receiving her degree, she achieved wealth and a local reputation as a successful Brooklyn physician with an interracial clientele. McKinney-Steward excelled, especially in pediatric care and the treatment of childhood diseases. Outside her medical practice, she agitated for social reform, advocating female suffrage and temperance. Until the early 1890s, she remained the organist for the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church where she regularly worshiped. Both of McKinney-Steward’s husbands were ministers.

She was married to South Carolina minister William G. McKinney in 1871, until his death in 1894. In 1896, McKinney-Steward married U.S. Army chaplain Theophilus Gould Steward. She moved with him to army bases in Montana, Nebraska, and Texas. By 1906, husband and wife had both found positions at the AME’s Wilberforce University in Ohio, McKinney-Steward as college physician. In 1911, McKinney-Steward joined luminaries including W. E. B. Du Bois at a Universal Race Congress in London, where she delivered a paper on "Colored American Women." She died in 1918, at Wilberforce University.

She is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York and her grave is not far from the grave of composer, James Weldon Johnson.

Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York
ISBN 0-926019-61-9

To become a Doctor

Person / name: 

Stewart, Susan M.