Dr Johnson becomes the 1st woman of any race to practice medicine in the state of Alabama.
Halle Tanner was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the oldest daughter of nine children to Benjamin Tucker and Sarah Elizabeth Tanner. Halle was well educated and as a young girl became familiar with the work of prominent African-American intellectuals.
MARRIAGE & COLLEGE: In 1886 Halle married Charles Dillon, and the couple had a child before her husband’s sudden death. A widow at 24, Halle returned to live with her family and decided to enter medical school. After three years of study at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, she earned her M.D. in 1891, graduating with honors.
Around the time of her graduation, African-American educator Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, had written to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania to request a nomination for a teaching position he had been struggling to fill for four years. He hoped to find an African-American physician to serve the school and its surrounding community. Johnson accepted Washington’s offer of US $600 a month, including lodging and meals, and arrived to begin her service in August 1891.
CAREER: Before beginning her new job, however, young Dr. Dillon had to face a significant obstacle: passing the Alabama State Medical Examination. The very fact that she was sitting for the examination caused a public stir in Montgomery, Alabama. She 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.
Dr. Dillion was the 1st woman to practice medicine in the state of Alabama.
During her brief 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, often mixing medicines herself for their use. She also taught two classes each day.
AFTER TUSKEGEE: Halle’s tenure at Tuskegee ended in 1894 when she married the Reverend John Quincy Johnson, an African Methodist Episcopal minister and math instructor at Tuskegee. The couple moved first to Columbia, South Carolina, where Reverend Johnson became president of Allen University, a private school for black students. They later moved from Hartford, Connecticut to Atlanta, Georgia, and then to Princeton, New Jersey, as Reverend Johnson pursued undergraduate and graduate degrees in theology. Finally, in 1900 the couple settled in Nashville, Tennessee with their three children, and Reverend Johnson became the pastor of Saint Paul A.M.E. Church.
Halle died in Nashville from complications during childbirth on April 26, 1901.