Dr. Justina L. Warren Ford’s medical bag is made of heavy black leather with two sturdy handles, a zippered top, and four small feet. The handles are held to the bag with four bullet-shaped tabs and heavy D-rings. Tabs and other parts are stitched in white.
As Denver’s first female doctor and Colorado’s first African American woman with a medical degree, Dr. Ford and her little black bag symbolize the way that African Americans came together in Colorado and elsewhere to establish thriving communities within larger communities that not only rejected them but often openly persecuted them. Museum visitors from around the country and the world to visit Dr. Ford’s former home and office to learn about black people who settled the West. Dr. Ford’s black bag is an important symbol of their pioneering efforts.
Dr. Ford, a black woman, received her medical degree from Hering Medical College in Chicago, IL, in 1899. In 1902, she joined her Baptist minister husband Dr. John Ford, who had been called to Denver by Zion Baptist Church. When he was called to a Florida church in 1907, Justina stayed behind to care for her patients. She never left and to hundreds of Denver’s black and immigrant families, Dr. Ford and her black bag symbolized help denied them from other quarters. Many could not afford her care, but she came when called and her services often included food, clothing, and fuel to aid patients’ recoveries. She was not allowed join the Colorado Medical Society until shortly before her death in 1952. Her application form notes that she delivered some 7,000 babies during her 50-years of practice.
Black American West Museum & Heritage Center
3091 California St
Denver, CO 80205