"The Lady Doctor"
Justina Ford was born in Illinois in 1871. Her mother was a nurse and Justina followed her around while she treated patients. Justina had a deep interest in medicine from a young age. Anatomy lessons were frequently offered at the dinner table, as her mother dissected a chicken before they ate. She graduated from Chicago’s Hering Medical College in 1899, and briefly served as a physician and hospital administrator in Alabama.
The south offered a very restrictive life for her professionally She was denied her medical license the first time she applied. The clerk 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.”
She married a Baptists minister, John Ford. Seeking a more progressive community to practice medicine, the couple headed west. They settled in Denver, Colorado, in 1902. Justina and her husband made their hone at 2335 Arapahoe Street in the mile high city. Still, though, she found barriers. She was barred from the American Medical Association and the Colorado Medial Society therefore wasn’t accredited as a physician, and could not practice at Denver hospitals. Dr. Ford applied year after year to the American Medical Association, the Colorado Medical Society and the Denver Medical Society. And, it’s not until 1950 that they let her in.
But that didn’t stop her. She made house calls, first in a horse and buggy, then a bicycle and eventually in a car, specializing on obstetrics, gynecology, pediatrics and family medicine.The home on Arapahoe became her medical office. Dr. Ford’s patients were poor whites, non-English speaking immigrants and Blacks who were also not permitted in many local hospitals. She said, "Folks make an appointment and whatever color they turn up, that's the color I take them.”
Dr. Ford taught herself many languages, from 8-11 different dialect to best communicate with her patients. Many of those patients paid her in groceries, textiles, poultry or other goods or services. She treated everyone, even the poorest of the poor, for free and often brought blankets, coal and food to them. She delivered over 7,000 babies, strongly believing they should be born at home whenever possible. For 50 years she practiced medicine, right up to two weeks before her death in 1952, where she was still the only African America female doctor in Denver and one of only a few Black physicians in the entire state of Colorado. They called her “The Lady Doctor,”
Dr. Ford was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 1985. In 1989 the Colorado Medical Society declared her one of Colorado’s medical pioneers. Her legacy lives on through the University of Colorado’s Justina Ford Scholarship for Commitment to the Underserved, the Justina Ford Medical Society and the Ford-Warren Branch Library in Denver. Her former home and office has been moved and renovated and is on the National Register of Historic Places, and has served as the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center since 1989.