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In Pursuit of a Grand Cause

Banner exhibit highlighting students and faculty of the Northwestern University Woman’s Medical School

Emma Ann Reynolds, MD (1862-1917)

By Abebi Espinoza, Special Collections Library Assistant

Emma Ann Reynolds was born in Frankfort, Ohio in 1862, when the 13th Amendment— which declared slavery illegal— had yet to be ratified. Reynolds graduated from Wilberforce University, a historically black university, and moved to Kansas City, Missouri, to teach. There she noticed extreme health disparities between blacks and whites. Determined to meet the health needs of the African American community, Reynolds applied to nursing schools, only to experience rejection repeatedly because she was black. She consulted Daniel H. Williams, MD, a prominent African American surgeon, for support, and this led to the opening of Provident Hospital, the first hospital in Chicago owned and operated by African Americans. Reynolds graduated from Provident Hospital’s nursing school in 1892. Three years later she became the first African American woman to receive her MD from Northwestern University Woman’s Medical School.

Reynolds divided her time between private practice, hospital work, and teaching positions in nursing schools. She followed her brother, Rev. Louis Reynolds, as he moved around the country, working in Waco, New Orleans, and Washington, DC. In 1902 she moved back to Frankfort, Ohio, and remained there until her death in 1917.