We are pleased to join the world in celebrating Women’s History Month. Sharing the important contributions of Brooklyn women from the African diaspora, and the accomplishments of women throughout the world, has motivated me to look for ways to make an impact on young ladies in my community. What will be my legacy for the future? How can I engage others?
Today I am pleased to tell you about the historical achievements of Dr. Josephine English – one of the first African-American women to have an OB/GYN practice in New York and one of Brooklyn’s earliest medical pioneers.
Dr. English was a tireless community leader, patron of the arts and philanthropist. Most important of all, she was a wonderful mother to her children, and earned a reputation as a highly coveted OB/GYN to Brooklyn residents and notables, including Dr. Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X.
Dr. English was born on December 17, 1920, in Virginia, and she died on December 18, 2011 in Brooklyn, NY, one day after her 91st birthday. Although she lived in Bedford Stuyvesant for many years, she would spend her last days at the Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, where she was recovering after undergoing a surgical procedure.
As I was preparing this post, I wondered wouldn’t it be great if Dr. English had an opportunity to meet Dr. McKinney? Picture a room where Dr. English, a recent graduate from Meharry Medical College who was now living in Brooklyn, could sit and talk with Dr. McKinney, the esteemed Brooklyn native who was the first African-American woman to earn an MD degree in New York State and the third woman to earn an MD degree in the United States. Can you just imagine the stories they would share? As medical pioneers with their own series of “firsts,” in addition to their personal and professional triumphs and challenges, I envision a conversation filled with many “aha” moments.
Dr. English spent her childhood years in New Jersey. Her parents were among the first African-American families to settle in Englewood. She received a B.A. from Hunter College in 1939 and continued her education at New York University where she received a M.A. in Psychology. After NYU, she attended Meharry Medical College and received her M.D. in 1949. Dr. English was ready to make her mark on the world. Her first stop was Harlem Hospital, where she worked for many years until she moved to Brooklyn in 1956.
Dr. English was a trailblazer who reached back to help others who were in need. She was among our borough’s earliest women philanthropists who championed the importance of health care for women, men and children. Shortly after moving to Brooklyn, she founded a Women’s Community Health Clinic in Bushwick. In 1979, she founded the Adelphi Medical Center which provided services for women and men.
Dr. English loved the theater and she was determined to share her passion for the arts with the community. In 1980, decades after opening many medical clinics, she purchased an abandoned church and converted it to the Paul Robeson Theater for the Performing Arts.
One year later, in 1981, Dr. English turned her sights to services for children and opened Up The Ladder Day Care and After-School Program which included a summer day camp. In 1986, she became the first minority, and the first woman, to be awarded a license from the New York State Department of Health to develop a free-standing ambulatory surgical center in Brooklyn.
Dr. English worked well beyond what was considered to be retirement age. She focused intently on her goals and did not let anything stand in her way. She changed the health-care landscape for women, men and families, in Brooklyn by providing access to health education and empowering her patients to make healthy life-style choices. She was a guiding force in Brooklyn and one of our brightest stars. Her achievements are legendary and it is an honor to salute her.
Dr. English will be truly missed.
Josephine English, one of the first back, female OB/GYNs not stopping at 89 – nydailynews.com
Dr. Josephine English, 91 via Northjersey.com
Dr. Josephine English, Medical Trailblazer dies at 91 – via www1.cuny.edu
Dr. Josephine English, The HistoryMakers via http://www.thehistorymakers.com