A true American pioneer, Dr. Susan McKinney Steward was the first black woman to earn a medical degree in the state of New York.
Born in Crown Heights — then known as Crown Hill — in 1847, McKinney Steward grew up in the neighborhood’s socially elite and civically active community. Motivated and driven McKinney Steward worked on the family farm and spent her free time under the tutelage of noted organist John Zundel.
As she grew older she worked as a teacher in Washington D.C. and New York City, using her wages to pay for medical school. In a time when racial and gender obstacles continued to hold many back, McKinney Steward pushed on and in 1870, graduated from the New York Medical School for Women and Children as class valedictorian, with a specialization in homeopathy, a natural treatment of diseases.
After graduation, McKinney Steward opened her own medical practice at her home in Brooklyn. After a slow start, word of her skills began to spread around Brooklyn and despite skepticism of the ability of a black doctor, she attracted a broad, diverse group of patients who affectionately referred to her as “Dr. Susan.”
McKinney Steward would also practice medicine and at the Brooklyn Women's Homeopathic Hospital and Dispensary as well as use her time to attend to seniors at the Brooklyn Home for Aged Colored People.
A renowned physician throughout her life, McKinney would use her fame to speak out for social reform as well as advocating for women’s suffrage and temperance. She died in 1918.