Dr. Justina Laurena Ford challenged and overcame gender and racial barriers in her medical career to become the first African American woman physician licensed to practice in Colorado. In 1950, just two years before her death, she was still the only black woman physician in the state.
Born in 1871, Justina Warren (later Ford) grew up in Knoxville, Illinois. She is sometimes known as Justina Carter Ford, although the name Carter—actually her sister’s married name—was not used by Justina Ford. After her graduation from Hering Medical College in 1899, she briefly practiced medicine in Alabama but moved to Denver seeking a place where black Americans would have more opportunities to practice medicine in the expanding West.
Three years after earning her medical degree from Chicago’s Hering Medical College, Dr. Justina Ford settled in Denver, Colorado in 1902. When she applied for her license to practice medicine, she was told by the clerk, “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.” Ford often referred to this double barrier to her career. In her later years, she said, “I fought like a tiger against those things”
Despite her early encounter with the Denver bureaucracy, she managed to establish a long and notable practice there, specializing in gynecology, obstetrics, and pediatrics. Like other black physicians, she was denied hospital privileges, which required her to make house calls for many years. Known lovingly as “The Lady Doctor” during her fifty years of practicing medicine, Dr. Ford estimated that she delivered thousands of babies for families from many different backgrounds.
Eventually, she was allowed to practice at the Denver General Hospital and was admitted to the Denver Medical Society. Four months before her death in 1952, she is quoted as saying, “…When all the fears, hate, and even some death is over, we will really be brothers as God intended us to be in this land. This I believe. For this, I have worked all my life.”