Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee

“As a young girl, I would nurse and help the birds that fell out of trees,” recalled Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee. While her friends played with toys, she healed injured animals. At an early age, she knew she wanted to become a doctor. After graduating fifth in her class from Tufts University School of Medicine in 1924, Dorothy Boulding, like other qualified African American physicians across the country, was denied internships at white hospitals. Determined to find equal opportunity to complete her training, Dr. Boulding took an internship at Freedman’s Hospital in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C. One of the few hospitals administered by African Americans, it provided health care to the city’s black community. In 1925, after completing her internship, Dr. Boulding opened her own practice in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. The community was very poorand did not have an ambulance service. Dr. Boulding was determined to bring basic care to those who could not afford it. (Dr. Dorothy Ferebee) “So I learned a great deal about the needs of the negro people in Washington, because most of them were concentrated in Southeast. So it was there that I learned there was very little opportunity for the children. Even though they were in school, they weren’t learning anything. And then it occurred to me, there’s something wrong with this town. Anytime a child goes hungry, and the mother has to work and leave her child home like this we need some place for children. We need a day care center.” Concerned about the needs of families in the community, she set up the Southeast Neighborhood Society, with playgrounds and day care for children of working mothers. In 1925, Dr. Boulding joined the faculty of Howard University Medical School, where she met, and later married Claude Thurston Ferebee, a dentist and university instructor. In 1934, she was appointed Medical Director of the Mississippi Health Project. (Dr. Dorothy Ferebee) “Going to Mississippi was quite an ordeal. In all of those counties, the influential people were the plantation owners. They’re the ones that decided what could be done,what could not be done. So, reluctantly they allowed us to start a clinic. But they would not allow the blacks on the plantation to leave their job of picking cotton and hoeing the weeds—would not allow them to come to any of the five clinics that we had proposed. So here we were, in Mississippi with all the materials that we had bought, the drugs that we had bought, all of the things necessary for the health of young children, and couldn’t use them because these plantation owners would not allow the negroes to come to us. So we had a little consultation, and we said, ‘Well, if they can’t come to us, we’ll go them.’ So it was an educational teaching job as well as a health job.” Despite threats by hostile whites, project workers launched vaccine programs against smallpox and diphtheria throughout poor communities. They also treated venereal disease and widespread malnutrition. Members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority financed, designed, and implemented the Project for two to six weeks every summer from 1935 to 1942. In 1949, Dr. Ferebee was appointed Director of Health Services for the Howard University Medical School. When she was in her sixties, President John F. Kennedy appointed her to the Council for Food for Peace, and she toured Africa for five months, lecturing on preventive medicine. Doctor Dorothy Boulding Ferebee died in 1980, at the age of ninety.