As the first African-American woman to be licensed as a physician in Colorado, Dr. Justina Laurena Ford overcame both gender and racial barriers to practice her profession. Even in 1950, she was still the only black woman physician in Colorado.
Dr. Ford was born Justina Laurena Warren in Knoxville, Illinois in 1871. In 1892, she married Baptist minister John Ford and moved to Chicago, where she graduated from the Hering Medical College in 1899.
In 1902, Dr. Ford moved to Denver’s Five Points neighborhood and applied for a medical license. 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.” She set up a private practice in her home, since African-Americans were barred at the time from working in hospitals or joining the Colorado Medical Association.
Dr. Ford managed to establish a long and notable practice from her home, specializing in gynecology, obstetrics, and pediatrics, despite all the obstacles. Ford continued caring for patients until two weeks before her death on October 14, 1952 and by the end of her life she had delivered almost 7,000 babies. In 1950, she was allowed to join the the Colorado and American Medical Associations and practice at the Denver General Hospital and was admitted to the Denver Medical Society.
Dr. Ford was admitted to the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 1985 and was named a “Medical Pioneer of Colorado” by the Colorado Medical Society in 1989. In 1998, a sculpture of Ford holding a baby, made by Jess E. DuBois, was erected outside her house. The home (3091 California St.) where Dr. Ford lived and worked has been turned into the Black American West Museum & Heritage Center where you can find out more about this amazing woman.