by Shannon Wood, Archives Intern
February 8 is National Black Women Physicians Day! This day was chosen because it is also the birthday of Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first Black woman physician in the United States. To celebrate, we wanted to highlight one of many (many) amazing Black women physicians in early Texas. 1954 is widely considered the year that the Civil Rights Movement was “officially” started. In 1950, less than 6% of doctors nationwide were women. Of that number, less than 2% of women physicians in the United States were Black. Then, to practice medicine as a Black woman in the south prior to the start of the Civil Rights Movement… well, that’s why celebrating these women’s accomplishments is so important. Here is one of Texas’ Black women physician heroines.
Carrie Jane Sutton was born in San Antonio in January of 1899. Her father, Samuel Johnson Sutton, was an early Civil Rights activist and entrepreneur, and together with Carrie Jane’s mother, schoolteacher Lillian Viola Smith Sutton, had 15 children, of which Carrie Jane was the second. Twelve of the 15 survived to adulthood, and all of these twelve, including Carrie Jane, earned college degrees and led lives as prominent citizens of their community.
Carrie Jane Sutton graduated as valedictorian from Riverside High School in 1914 at only 15 years old and attended Howard University and University of Pennsylvania, before returning to Howard University, this time to attend the College of Medicine. While at Howard, Sutton was president of the local Alpha chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Vice President of her graduating class (the only female class officer), and also won the Phi Beta Kappa Key award.
Dr. Sutton did great work at University of Pennsylvania in the summer of 1918 in a medical fellowship position. She was the first Black female intern at Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., interning from 1920-1921.
Dr. Sutton then returned to San Antonio in 1921, where she practiced medicine, specializing in women’s health and pediatrics. She was most likely Texas’ first Black woman physician to practice.
In 1924, Dr. Sutton married fellow doctor John Hunter Brooks. Their wedding was quite the social occasion.
Dr. Sutton continued to practice medicine in San Antonio for a few years and was involved in civic action in her community. She was one of the primary women responsible for establishing the YWCA branch for Black women on Pine Street in San Antonio.
Dr. Sutton and Dr. Brooks later moved to New Jersey, where they practiced medicine in adjoining offices. Dr. Sutton suffered from a lengthy illness and returned to San Antonio to be closer to her family. She passed away in 1964 from pneumonia, just shy of her 65th birthday, and was buried in San Antonio. Her work and life left a great impact in her community, which continues even today.
IC 058 Texas State Board of Medical Examiners records, McGovern Historical Center, Texas Medical Center Library, https://archives.library.tmc.edu/ic-058.
“Carrie Jane Sutton, M.D.” (1921, August 13). The Richmond Planet. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84025841/1921-08-13/ed-1/seq-1/
Howard University, “The Echo: 1920” (1920). Howard University Yearbooks. 101.
Winegarten, R. (1996). Black Texas Women: 150 Years of trial and triumph. University of Texas Press.