Denver’s first black woman doctor cared for thousands of patients at her Denver home. Now Denverites can help care for her home.
At an open house Saturday at the home in Five Points where Justina Ford lived and worked in the early 20th century, votes from visitors could translate to dollars. The site at 3091 California St., which houses the Black American West Museum & Heritage Center, is among 20 across the country competing for a share of $2 million from American Express, which has partnered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation in a grant program known as Partners in Preservation. After an online vote, that ends Oct. 29, the top 10 finishers will get money.
You can vote more than once online. Saturday’s in-person voting from noon to 4 p.m. has special weight: The site that receives the most in-person votes during open houses is in line for a special $50,000 grant.
Ford had to fight for a medical license after completing training in Chicago in 1899 because of prejudice against blacks and women. In 1902 she moved to Denver, where at the time only a handful of black men and no black women were doctors and only some hospitals would accept black patients. Ford was barred from the Colorado Medical Association and from working in Denver hospitals because of racism. She opened her obstetrics, gynecology and pediatrics practice in her home in a neighborhood that was at the heart of African-American life in Denver.
Ford died in 1952 at the age of 81 — two years after she was finally admitted into the Colorado Medical Association.
While Ford faced discrimination herself, she treated everyone, said Terri Gentry, a volunteer docent at the Black American West Museum and a member of its board of directors.
“Thousands of patients came through the door” over five decades, Gentry said Friday as she showed visitors around the dining room that served as an examination room.
Gentry called Ford a “woman of action.”
“She was just such a compassionate activist in giving the best medical care,” Gentry said.
Renee Cousins King, herself a retired pediatrician, this year donated $100,000 that went toward a new roof, porch and gutters for the museum. Gentry said if the house receives a Partners in Preservation grant, the money would be used for brickwork and to replace windows. The museum has requested $150,000 from Partners in Preservation.
Historic Denver, a nonprofit that works to preserve historic sites, brought the national competition to her museum’s attention, Gentry said.
“They knew that we needed some help, some financial help,” Gentry said. “They kind of watch out for us.”
Annie Robb Levinsky, executive director of Historic Denver, said the connection goes back to the 1980s, when neighbors learned the house was slated for demolition. Historic Denver helped save the house and move it from 2335 Arapahoe St. in Five Points to its current California Street location.
Historic Denver wrote an initial application that made the Ford house among the 20 Partners in Preservation finalists. Since it was founded in 2006, Partners in Preservation has spent over $25 million on more than 250 historic sites. This year’s campaign, ahead of the 2020 centennial of women’s suffrage in the United States, focuses on sites associated with pioneering women.
Ford’s house is the only Colorado site among the finalists. The other finalists include a YWCA in Seattle, the Ladies Literary Clubhouse in Salt Lake City, and the courthouse building in Monroeville, Ala., where novelist Harper Lee watched her lawyer father defend clients.
Historic Denver’s Levinsky said the Partners in Preservation campaign was a chance to both raise funds for the house and raise awareness about Ford’s story. Each finalist has received $10,000 to build support during the campaign.
Cousins King, who is from a prominent Five Points family, is set to cast the first ballot at Saturday’s event at the Ford house, Levinsky said. Others expected to come to the house to vote Saturday are among the more than 7,000 babies delivered by Ford over her long career.
“Those are folks who literally have her name written on their birth certificates, which is really cool,” Lewinsky said.