Making Moves In Medicine

Making Moves In Medicine

Written on 09/23/2022

In 1891 Halle Tanner Dillon Johnson became the first black woman to practice medicine in Alabama and also the first woman ever admitted on examination to practice medicine in that state.

Before Dr. Dillon could begin work she face an obstacle, she had to pass the Alabama State Medical Examination. Booker T. Washington helped her prepare for her exam by asking Cornelius Nathaniel Dorsette the first Black American licensed physician in the city to help her prepare. The fact that Dr. Dillon was sitting for the examination caused a public stir in Montgomery the states capitol. Dr. Dillon spent ten days taking the exam, addressing a different area of medicine each day. Her examiners included the directors and leading figures of most of the state’s major medical institutions. Dillon impressed them with her responses and she passed the test.

The same year of her graduation, Prominent Black American educator Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama had written a letter to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in a request for a nomination for a teaching position he had been struggling to fill for four years. Dr. Dillon stepped up and accepted Washington offer of $600 a month, including lodging and meals. Dr. Dillon arrived at Tuskegee Institute in August 1891, to began service.

In 1894 she married her second husband, Reverend John Quincy Johnson, an aspiring theologian and mathematics professor at Tuskegee Institute.  The couple moved to Nashville where Reverend Johnson pursued a graduate degree in divinity while serving as pastor of Saint Paul’s AME Church.  Dr. Tanner Dillon Johnson, meanwhile, resumed her medical practice.  The couple had three more children but in 1901 Dr. Halle Tanner Dillon Johnson died of complications resulting from childbirth.


"During her tenure at Tuskegee, she was responsible for the health care of the school's 450 students and 30 faculty and staff. She also established a training school for nurses and founded the Lafayette Dispensary to serve the health care needs of local residents."

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