Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Steward was the fi rst African American woman to earn a medical doctorate (M.D.) in New York State and the third in the United States. Though her early education was musical, Susan Smith entered the New York Medical College for Women in 1867. She earned her M.D. in 1870, graduating as valedictorian.
In 1871, she married Reverend William G. McKinney, with whom she had two children. Dr. Smith McKinney’s professional accomplishments were numerous. She established her own private practice in Brooklyn that she ran from 1870 to 1895. During this time she co-founded the Brooklyn Women’s Homeopathic Hospital and Dispensary, which served the African-American community. Dr. Smith McKinney also completed post-graduate education at the Long Island Medical College Hospital in Brooklyn, practiced at the Brooklyn Home for Aged Colored People, where she also served as a board member, and practiced at New York Medical College and Hospital for Women in Manhattan. Dr. Smith McKinney specialized in prenatal care and childhood diseases and presented papers on both these topics.
Rev. McKinney died in 1892, and in 1896 Dr. Smith McKinney married Theophilus Gould Steward, an ordained minister and U.S. Army chaplain. She traveled with him for several years throughout the West, earning medical licenses in Montana and Wyoming. In 1898, Dr. Smith McKinney Steward was hired by Wilberforce University in Ohio as a resident physician and faculty member to teach health and nutrition.
Dr. Smith McKinney Steward’s activities included local missionary work and women’s suff rage advocacy. She was president of the Brooklyn Women’s Christian Temperance Union (No. 6). She was an accomplished public speaker, and in 1911 addressed the fi rst Universal Race Congress at the University of London. Her presentation was entitled, “Colored Women in America.” In 1914, she gave a speech, “Women in Medicine,” at the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs Convention.
Dr. Smith McKinney Steward practiced medicine for 48 years. When she died in Brooklyn in 1918, W.E.B. DuBois gave the eulogy at her funeral. In 1974, Brooklyn Junior High School was renamed Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Junior High School in her honor. Two years later, black women physicians in the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut area named their society after her to honor her life and work