Dr. Justina L. Ford was a pioneering physician who practiced medicine in Colorado, despite facing the barriers of race and gender. Dr. Ford, better known as the “Lady Doctor,” was rumored to have delivered 7,000 babies in her lifetime and was the lone Black female doctor in the state for the first half of the 20th century.
Justina Laurena Warren was born January 22, 1871 in Knoxville, Tenn. The daughter of a nurse, she moved to Chicago and married preacher John Ford in 1892. Ford attended Hering Medical College in the city and graduated in 1899. After working briefly in Alabama, Ford relocated to Denver in 1902 and became the first Black woman in the state to earn a medical license.
Despite Dr. Ford’s credentials, Black doctors were banned from working at larger white hospitals. There were few places that served the needs of the poor. Ford was also denied access to the state’s medical association, which would have provided her a network of opportunities afforded to her white, male counterparts.
Ford opened a gynecology and pediatrics practice out of her home which earned her the nickname. Ford’s generosity was legendary, and she often took trades of goods for her services if patients didn’t have the money to pay her. Poor patients also got special care in the form of Ford providing food and clothing when she was able. She saw patients of all racial backgrounds and made frequent house calls.
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Some accounts state that for several decades, Ford was the only woman physician in Colorado. What can be confirmed is that up until 1950, she was the only Black female doctor there. Denver General Hospital eventually opened its doors to Ford and she was finally admitted to the Denver Medical Society. Dr. Ford’s former home is now the Black American West Museum.
Ford passed in 1952.