One of the first Afro-American Female Physicians in the United States, Dr. Johnson was the first female doctor to pass the Alabama state medical examination and was the first woman physician at Tuskegee Institute.
She was the eldest of nine children born to African Methodist Episcopal bishop Benjamin Tucker Tanner and Sarah Elizabeth Miller in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1864. Her brother, Henry Ossawa Tanner, became a noted artist. Shortly after Halle was born the Tanners moved to Philadelphia where the children were educated.
In the middle 1880s Halle Tanner worked with her father on the AME Church Review. In 1886 she married Charles E. Dillon and the two moved to Trenton, New Jersey where they had a daughter, Sadie. Charles Dillon died of an unknown cause and Halle Tanner Dillon moved back to Philadelphia to live with her parents. Tanner decided to become a physician and enrolled at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. The only African American woman in her class, Tanner graduated with an M.D. and high honors after three years of study in 1891. While at the college, she learned of a job opportunity as resident physician at Tuskegee Institute. She contacted Booker T. Washington, the Principal of Tuskegee. Washington appointed her and helped her prepare for the Alabama state medical examination.
Dr. Tanner Dillon sat for the ten day examination and passed. She served at Tuskegee University as a physician, pharmacist, teacher, and ran a private practice for 3 years. While at Tuskegee she founded a training school for nurses and a dispensary (pharmacy). In 1894 she married her second husband, Reverend John Quincy Johnson, an aspiring theologian and mathematics professor at Tuskegee Institute. The couple moved to Nashville where Reverend Johnson pursued a graduate degree in divinity while serving as pastor of Saint Paul’s AME Church. Dr. Tanner Dillon Johnson, meanwhile, resumed her medical practice. The couple had three more children but in 1901 Dr. Halle Tanner Dillon Johnson died of complications resulting from childbirth.
Matthew Oliver Ricketts MD (1858-1917)
Ricketts was born to enslaved parents in Henry County, Kentucky in 1858. His parents moved to Booneville, Missouri when he was a child, and he completed school there. In 1876 he received a degree from the Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Missouri, and moved to Omaha, Nebraska in 1880. Ricketts was admitted to the Omaha Medical College and worked as a janitor to pay his tuition. In March 1884 he graduated with honors, and soon after opened an office in Omaha. Ricketts quickly earned a reputation for “being a very careful physician, as well as an exceedingly likable young man.”A charismatic and controversial speaker, Ricketts quickly became the acknowledged leader of Omaha’s African American community. After being elected in 1892, Rickets served the Nebraska Legislature twice as a Republican in whole-county elections, from 1893 to 1897. He was the first African American to serve in the Nebraska Legislature. Dr. Ricketts was regarded as one of the best orators there, and was frequently called upon for his opinions. He is credited for creating Omaha’s Negro Fire Department Company, and for securing appointments for blacks in city and state government positions. Ricketts was elected Worshipful Master of Omaha Excelsior Lodge No. 110 of the Prince Hall Masons. Ricketts addressed the 1906 Grand Convocation of the Freemasons in Kansas City, Missouri. Ricketts was married to Alice Nelson in 1884; they had three children. After leaving the Legislature Ricketts was an unsuccessful candidate for a federal position, largely because his appointment was opposed by a Nebraska congressman. Ricketts subsequently moved to St. Joseph, Missouri to continue his medical career in 1903. He died in St. Joseph, Missouri in 1917, at the age of 64.