Susan Smith McKinney Steward


Susan Smith McKinney Steward (1847-1918)


Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Steward
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.


Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Steward, 1847-1918


By Kelsey Griffin and Eva Sagoli, Undergraduates, University of Michigan-Dearborn

Additions, June and December 2023 by Thomas Dublin

Dr. Susan McKinney Steward was born Susan Marie Smith in Brooklyn in March of 1847 to parents Anne and Sylvanus Smith. She is listed in her parents' household in Brooklyn in the 1850, 1860, and 1870 federal censuses. The seventh of ten children, Susan was intelligent and a hardworking student who was hard hit by the cholera outbreaks both in her childhood and during the Civil War. The deaths of two of her brothers, as well by a cousin's childhood illness, lead her to become a pioneer in the treatment of childhood diseases. She became the third African American woman to earn a medical degree in the country, and the first in the state of New York. Though medicine was her passion, she was deeply committed to music, philanthropy, suffrage, education, and her family.

Susan Smith began attending New York Medical College for Women in 1867. Paying her way through school by teaching organ music, she specialized in homeopathic remedies and childhood diseases. She graduated in 1870 with honors and was elected valedictorian by her class. She completed her postgraduate work at the Long Island Medical College Hospital, where she was the only woman physician.

Smith married minister William G. McKinney in 1871 and the couple had two children, Anna and William. She ran a small clinic out of their Brooklyn home where she treated people of all races and ethnicities and charged on a sliding scale. Business boomed and soon she relocated her office to Manhattan and was able to support herself, her children, her infirm husband, and other relatives. She also taught at her alma mater in 1882-1883.

In addition to treating patients and teaching, McKinney also engaged in research, wrote papers, and helped establish a number of medical organizations. In the 1880s, she presented two impactful papers: the first about the improper care of a pregnant woman, the second about the treatment of childhood diseases. She was an acting delegate to the New Jersey State Homeopathic Society at their 1889 semi-annual meeting; she was a founding member of the Alumni Association of New York Medical College for Women. She co-founded the Brooklyn Women's Homeopathic Hospital and Dispensary, where she also practiced surgery.

McKinney was also active politically and philanthropically. She helped to found the Woman's Loyal Union of New York, an organization that advocated for anti-lynching laws, and worked to elevate the moral, intellectual, and social status of African Americans. She served as president of the local chapter of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Her sister, Sarah Garnet, seems to have drawn her into the suffrage movement. Garnet ran the Equal Suffrage League, which McKinney helped establish, lecturing and writing on the topic of suffrage, urging African American women at conventions to vote and be politically engaged. She also served as organist for the Bridge Street A.M.E. Church in Brooklyn for almost three decades.

In 1896, after the death of her first husband, McKinney married Theophilus Gould Steward, chaplain to the Buffalo Soldiers, an infantry unit comprised solely of black men. She traveled with her husband, tending to the soldiers' wounds and ailments while her husband cared for their souls. Upon her husband's retirement, they both obtained positions at Wilberforce University, in Ohio. Susan Steward is listed in both 1900 and 1910 censuses as a resident in Xenia, Ohio and a practicing physician. Theophilus appears in the same household in 1910, but is absent from the 1900 census listing for his wife. Steward remained active in the last decade of her life, attending various meetings, including those of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, and urging African American men and women to learn and work together.

In July 1911 Steward and her sister traveled to the University of London to attend the meeting of the United Races Congress, where Steward delivered a paper, "Colored American Women." Upon the sisters' return to Brooklyn, the Colored Women's League held a welcome reception for the Garnets on September 7. Steward read her paper at this reception and Garnet distributed suffrage material she had collected in London. Attendees included Atlanta professor John Hope and his wife, Lugenia Burns Hope, W.E.B. Du Bois, Verina Morton Jones, and other members of the Equal Suffrage League.

Susan McKinney Steward died in 1918 at age 71, at Wilberforce University. W.E.B. Du Bois offered a eulogy at her passing. She is buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Suggested Readings

"A Choice Art Exhibit: By the Woman's Loyal Union of Afro-Americans," The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (April 10, 1893). Retrieved from:

Seraile, Williams (1985). "Susan McKinney Steward: New York State's First African-American Woman Physician," Afro-Americans in New York Life and History (1977-1989); New York.

Perry, Kennetta Hammond (2005). "Elevating the Race: Theophilius G. Steward, Black Theology, and the Making of an African American Civil Society, 1865-1924". The Journal of African American History; 90 (3); pp. 326.


The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (1893). "A Choice Art Exhibit: By the Woman's Loyal Union of Afro-Americans". Retrieved from:

Cazalet, Sylvain (2006). "Biography of Susan Smith McKinney Steward (1848-1919)". History of the New York Medical College and Hospital for Women. Retrieved from:

Chinn, May E. (1940). "The Negro Woman in Medicine Has Achieved Leading Place in Profession: Pioneer Won Her Degree Five Years After Emancipation". New York Amsterdam News, June 29, 1940

Commire, A. and Klezmer D. (2007). "Steward, Susan McKinney (1847-1918). Dictionary of Women Worldwide: 25,000 Women Through the Ages, vol. 2. Detroit: Yorkin Publications, 2007; pp. 1789.

Davis, Elizabeth (1996). "National Association of Colored Women". Lifting as They Climb (African-American Women Writers, 1910-1940). G K Hall; pp 292.

Gordon, David (1974). "Black Woman Doctor Honored: A Church Organist Married a Minister." New York Times, May 19, 1974; Proquest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. 103.

Hine, Darlene Clark. "Susan M. Steward". Black Women in America an Historical Encyclopedia, vol. 1 and 2. Brooklyn, New York: Carlson Publishing, 1993.

Majors, Monroe (2009). "Susan McKinney, M.D., Ph.D". Noted Negro Women: Their Triumphs And Activities (1893); pp 269-270.

Brown, Hallie Q. "Dr. Susan S. (McKinney) Steward". Homespun Heroines. Pp 160.

McKinney, Susan S (1887). "Marasmus Infantum". Pp 150-152. Retrieved from:

McKinney, Susan S. (1884). "A Clinical Case". Pp. 195-196. Retrieved from:

Perry, Kennetta Hammond (2005). "Elevating the Race: Theophilius G. Steward, Black Theology, and the Making of an African American Civil Society, 1865-1924". The Journal of African American History; 90 (3); pp. 326.

Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998. Pp. 94-95.

Scruggs, LA (1893). Women of Distinction: Remarkable in Works and Invincible in Character. Pp. 99. Raleigh, N.C.

Seraile, Williams (1985). "Susan McKinney Steward: New York State's First African-American Woman Physician". Afro-Americans in New York Life and History (1977-1989); New York.

Wellman, Judith (2014). Brooklyn's Promised Land: The Free Black Community of Weeksville, NewYork (New York: New York University Press).

William, Peper (1966). "Boro Had 1st Negro Woman MD in 1870". New York Amsterdam News (1962-1993); April 23, 1966. Proquest Historical Newspapers: New York Amsterdam News pg. G3.

Williams, Jasmin K. (2013). "Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Steward". New York Amsterdam News; Mar 14-Mar. 20, 2013; 104, 11; Ethnic NewsWatch pp. 32.

Federal Manuscript Census listings, 1850-1870, 1900 and 1910 for Susan Smith and Susan Steward, and Theophilus Steward accessed with Ancestry Library Edition.


Links to Additional Biographical Sketches

Dictionary of American Negro Biography*
Women of Distinction
Homespun Heroines

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