First Black Doctor to Practice at City Hospital Was a Trailblazer

Groups and Communities
Published February 26, 1998

First Black Doctor to Practice at City Hospital
Was a Trailblazer

| Published February 26, 1998

Dr. E. Mae McCarroll on the job at Newark City Hospital in April 1946. Courtesy of the Newark Public Library

Dr. E. Mae McCarroll was the first black doctor admitted to practice at Newark City Hospital. Starting date: Jan. 3, 1946. According to a news account, 'Her appointment climaxed a civil campaign covering many years to win Negro representation on the hospital staff.'

The recommendation was made by the executive committee of the medical board, headed by Dr. Edward Sprague. Dr. McCarroll commented that she was 'pleased to represent the beginning of greater opportunities for Negro physicians in our city.' Public Affairs Director John Brady, whose department had jurisdiction over the hospital, told the press he believed 'that Negro physicians should have representation on the hospital's staff,' but still thought that 'a policy of non-interference with the medical board's methods of procedure was right.' Prior to these pleasantries, vigorous fighting raged over the appointment of Negroes to the hospital.

Appeal to justice

In testimony to the City Commission on June 20, 1945, McCarroll noted that 'Negroes have contributed a great deal to the Outpatient Department of the City Dispensary,' adding that 'they should have the right to work in the City Hospital.' Commissioner Meyer Ellenstein, who later became mayor, questioned McCarroll about black representation in Cleveland. She responded that Cleveland had Negro representation in its city hospital, while Newark had none. When asked by Ellenstein if she thought there was anything strange about the comparison of Cleveland's and Newark's black hospital work force, or if there was any prejudice, she responded, 'There isn't a Negro in Newark who does not feel that there has been prejudice there, and that accounts for it. I believe there should be equal opportunities for all groups.' While her comments were firm, they also were polite. Irvine I. Turner's testimony before the commission that same day was focused on by Commissioners Brady and Ellenstein. Essentially, Brady said he would not step in and recommend that a black be appointed to the hospital staff even though it was within his power to so do. Brady told Turner, 'I made this statement, that at no time will I recognize race, color or creed. For three years I have been recommending the appointment of a colored doctor to the staff, and am still waiting for the recommendation to be acted upon. I will not recommend the name of any physician, but I have recommended time and time again to the medical board the appointment of Negro doctors, nurses and students.' At this point in the hearings, Ellenstein interrupted, saying he was 'willing to assume the responsibility if the majority of the commissioners will transfer me to the Public Affairs Department. I will pick Negro doctors and Negro nurses to train in the training school, and I will then turn the department back to Director Brady and he won't have to assume the responsibility.' At that point, the hearing was interrupted by the enthusiastic applause of the onlookers. One can but imagine Brady's thoughts as Ellenstein added, 'That is something that will solve the problem, and you will not be put on the spot, to use the vernacular.' Turner, who became Newark's first black councilman a decade later, immediately added, 'there is plenty of discrimination in the City Hospital. I mean, you get emotional sitting by and waiting, after hearing various stories about the City Hospital. We work hard, and I believe that every citizen in the city of Newark, whether he be white or colored, will approve of it.' Turner said he thought the City Commission should make the decision to add black staff, not the medical board, for 'We elected the City Commission. We did not elect the board.' Turner reminded the commissioners of the fact that 'Franklin D. Roosevelt, the greatest man who ever lived, never listened to Congress or (the) Senate when he wanted something. He fought for it, and he got it. Militant leadership is what we need in this town. You are the city of Newark as far as that particular department is concerned. You have the right to direct them, yes, I say dictate to them, and if they don't like it, throw them out.' Things were really heating up as Turner went on: 'The issue is up. It is a fact that Negro people must get a break, and they are asking for it.' He maintained that Brady would probably be urging the same outcome 10 years later, while blacks would still be waiting for that break.

Challenge to leadership

'You are not an American leader when you do that,' Turner said. 'You say it is not a political football. I say it is! And I will say this: You are afraid to make that appointment. You are afraid to do it. And if we ever speak again, I will say you are afraid.' Turner further belittled Brady by saying he would not lose the next election if he allowed blacks into the hospital. He also vowed to continue to accuse Brady of discrimination until he made the first black appointment. Within six months of this emotional commission hearing, on January 3, 1946, McCarroll was appointed to the City Hospital. From the start, she expressed great satisfaction in working with people individually while 'being of service to one's own Negro community in particular.' A black first had been accomplished.

E. Mae McCarroll was born in 1898 in Birmingham, Ala., the fourth of six children. She attended local schools before matriculating at Talledega College, where she earned a bachelor's degree. At Fisk University in Nashville, she took additional courses in chemistry and physics before enrolling in the Women's Medical College at the University of Pennsylvania. Upon graduation, she served as an intern in Kansas City Hospital No. 2 (that community's black medical facility). She was married twice, first to Dr. J. Leroy Baxter, a Newark dentist, who later became one of New Jersey's early black assemblymen. Their marriage ended in divorce after 10 years. She subsequently married Robert Hunter, a Newark banker who was active with many community groups. During her lifetime, she practiced medicine for a half-century on Hillside Avenue in the South Ward. In addition to her regular medical practice, she became a pioneer in attempting to stamp out venereal disease in Newark. She was encouraged in this effort by the Prudential Insurance Co., which helped support her lectures. McCarroll traveled the city to inform young ladies of the risks involved in casual sex. For many years she was Newark's assistant epidemiologist after being appointed in 1932 to the city Child Hygiene Division. In addition to practicing at City Hospital, McCarroll was accorded medical privileges at Beth Israel Hospital. Throughout her life, McCarroll was active in the National Medical Association. She joined the professional organization of black physicians in 1929 and eventually became the group's 'first lady.' She also served as president of the North Jersey Medical Society and the New Jersey State Medical Association and worked avidly on their publications to make them outstanding. At the community level, she supported the Newark Branch of the NAACP, the Fuld Neighborhood House, the League of Women Voters, the Daughters of the Elks, the Urban League of Essex County and the Delta Sigma sorority. With her second marriage, she converted to Catholicism, an event described by Monsignor Patrick McGrath as a reverent turning point in her life. In 1973 she retired to the District of Columbia and Florida. When she came back to Newark, she always visited Blessed Sacrament.

Contribution recognized

On May 5, 1984, McCarroll and former Newark Health Department colleague and friend Dr. Aaron Haskin were honored when the city's new health building was dedicated as the Haskin-McCarroll Building. The block-long red brick structure at William, Arlington and Shipman streets was completed at a cost of $4 million from the Local Public Works Act of 1977. As Mayor Kenneth Gibson noted, it 'symbolized the priority that we put on improved health care for the people of Newark, and will enable us to raise the efficiency and dignity with which our city health services are rendered.' The new facility replaced an antiquated dispensary at William Street and University Avenue, offering assistance to residents with chest diseases, dental problems and childhood ailments. Also housed there were the Women, Infants and Children program, pediatric health programs and treatment for venereal diseases. McCarroll fought to provide separate entrances for the latter program to guarantee patients confidentiality. So when you drive up William Street toward King Boulevard and see that tidy modern brick structure to the left, think of it as a working memorial to two important Newarkers who spent a large part of their lives making the city a little better for a lot of people they would never meet, but thought important. Now, that's a real monument worth having in anybody's back yard.