Justina Ford, M.D. (1871-1952).
(The Lady Doctor)
Settling in Denver in 1902 with a degree from Hering Medical College in Chicago, she was truly a medical pioneer. Courage and determination shielded her from the discrimination that she would face even as she applied for her Colorado medical license. The licensing examiner told her, “I feel dishonest taking a fee from you. You’ve got two strikes against you to begin with. First of all, you’re a lady, and second, you’re colored.”
Regardless of those obstacles, she established what was to become a long and notable practice in Denver, specializing in gynecology, obstetrics and pediatrics. The “Lady Doctor”, as she became familiarly and lovingly known, delivered more than 7,000 babies of varied ethnic backgrounds and from all walks of life. Dr. Ford was denied hospital privileges for a good number or years, thus her home delivery practice was essential. Against these odds, and face with other barriers of race and gender, she persisted in her commitment to bring medical service to the disadvantaged and underprivileged of Denver. Dr. Justina Ford was a true Humanitarian.
Four months before her death, she is quoted as saying, “When all the fears, hate, and even some death is over, we will really be bothers as God intended us to bin in this land. This I believe. For this I have worked all my life.”
The Origin of the BAWM&HC
The Museum began as the personal hobby of Paul Stewart , who, as a child playing cowboys and Indians, always had to be the Indian because, “There was no such thing as a Black cowboy.” After Mr. Stewart reached adulthood, he met a Black cowboy – a man who had led cattle drives at he turn of the century – and at that time, vowed to unearth all the material he could on other African American western pioneers.
So the story begins of one man’s search and discovery of the past not recorded in history books. His search has taken him to nearly every corner of the West, gathering personal artifacts, memorabilia, newspapers, legal documents, clothing, letters, photographs, and oral histories. It was this original “Paul Stewart Collection” that formed the nucleus of the Museum which formally began operation in 1971.
Today, thanks to the dedicated leadership of an untiring Board of Directors, many community volunteers and corporate supporters, the BAWM&HC has grown to become one of the most comprehensive sources of historic materials about African Americans in the West.
Some little known facts:
- Nearly a third of the cowboys in the “Wild West” were Black.
- Black families came west in covered wagons; establishing self-sufficient all-Black towns, filling every job from barber to teacher, doctor to state legislator.
- African Americans were some of the West’s earliest millionaires, owning much of the West’s most valuable real estate and many of its prominent businesses.
- One of the first gold discoveries in Idaho Springs, Colorado was made by Henry Parker, a Black mine owner.
- Blacks were also military heroes, taking San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War. It is a little-known fact that the all-Black 10th Cavalry should really be credited for that victory.
Yes, African American people played a major role in the settling and shaping of the American West. Yet, until now, this story as gone virtually untold. From the early fur trade until today, the Museum’s exhibits document this history, with a special emphasis on Colorado and early Denver. It is a story not found in history books, but we tell it like it is.