Make Black History Personal: #12 Detroit’s Black Women Pioneers in Medicine

I’d like you to meet four amazing women who I’ve known since I was a gleam in my father’s eye. They were all pioneers in Detroit’s medical community.

Even though I was never motivated to go to med school (hating high school biology was a sure sign), the “Docs”, as I call them with great affection, were role models and mentors. Even unofficial Godmothers.

Counterclockwise, they are –

  1. Ethelene Crockett, M.D.
  2. Marjorie Peebles-Meyers, M.D.
  3. Natalia Tanner, M.D. and
  4. Rachel Boone Keith, M.D.
Amazing women physicians from Detroit who all graduated from medical school in the 1940s.
Amazing women physicians from Detroit who all graduated from medical school in the 1940s.

Sadly, Dr. Tanner is the only one still living.

Each of these women grew up during the Great Depression and graduated from medical school in the 1940s when most women didn’t even go to college, let alone professional school. I knew them as integral part of the “brain trust” that made Detroit such a unique community.

They were rock stars.

1. Ethelene Crockett graduated from undergrad at the University of Michigan and medical school at Howard University in Washington, D.C.. After medical school, Dr. Crockett got a coveted internship at Receiving Hospital in Detroit. But because no Detroit hospital would accept a Black woman into a residency program, Dr. Crockett had to complete her training at a hospital in New York City.

2. Marjorie Peebles-Meyers got her undergraduate degree from Hunter College in New York and her masters from Columbia University. She started medical school at Howard University in Washington, D.C. but later transferred to Wayne State University where she was the first Black woman graduate. Dr. Peebles-Meyers also become the first Black woman intern and chief resident at Detroit’s Receiving Hospital. When my father graduated from Wayne’s medical school, he followed in Dr. Peebles-Meyer’s footsteps with an internship at Receiving, where she was his chief resident.

3. Natalia Tanner received her undergraduate degree from Fisk University and her medical degree from Meharry Medical College, graduating near the top of her class. Dr. Tanner did her internship at Harlem Hospital and her residency at the University of Chicago. She and her husband, also a doctor relocated to Detroit where they practiced for years. Dr. Tanner is an incredibly active 90-something who skis and goes golfing to this day.

4. Rachel Boone Keith was born and raised in Liberia. She came to the States for college, graduating second in her class from New York’s Houghton College. Dr. Keith graduated from medical school at Boston University. When she graduated, the Boston Globe did a story on how Dr. Keith’s grades on the medical school test were the highest ever. After completing an internship at Harlem Hospital, she moved to Detroit for her residency at Receiving Hospital. After her residency, Dr. Keith went into medical practice with my father, Dr. Thomas Batchelor and Dr. Garnet Ice.

What I’ve shared here is just the tip of the iceberg where the Docs are concerned. I hope you’ll read more about these brilliant, accomplished, successful caring women.

How can you make Black history personal?

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