In 1891, Halle Tanner Dillon Johnson became not only the first African-American woman to practice medicine in Alabama, but the first woman of any race to achieve such a feat.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pa. in 1864, Johnson was the oldest daughter of Benjamin Tucker Tanner , a prominent minister and bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Sarah Elizabeth Tanner. Her younger brother, Henry Ossawa Tanner would become the first African-American artist to gain international acclaim.
Raised primarily in Philadelphia, Johnson was exposed to several prominent African-American social and political activists such as Frederick Douglass. She worked with her father on the Christian Recorder and AME Review, disseminating important information to African-American communities throughout the United States.
At the age of 22, Johnson married her first husband, Charles Dillon. Two years later, Dillon died and Johnson returned home to live with her family. During this time, Johnson decided to attend the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1891 with honors.
While studying at the Woman's Medical College, the prominent African-American educator and sociopolitical leader, Booker T. Washingtonasked college officials for to nominate a student for a teaching position at Tuskegee Institute. Johnson accepted the teaching position which included $600 a month as well as room and board.
But before she could begin working, Johnson had to pass the rigorous ten day Alabama State Medical Examination. To prepare for the exam, Washington had Johnson study with Cornelius Nathaniel Dorsette, the first licensed African-American physician in Montgomery, Ala. With the help of Dorsette, Johnson became the first woman--black or white--to pass the exam.
While working at Tuskegee, Johnson was responsible for providing healthcare services to students, faculty and staff. In addition to providing health services, Johnson taught two classes per day and founded the Nurses' School and Hospital for Tuskegee Institute. Later, Johnson established the Lafayette Dispensary, providing healthcare services to residents of the area.
In 1894, Johnson married her second husband, math educator and AME minister, John Quincy Johnson. Johnson moved to Columbia, SC where her husband served as president of Allen University. Through their marriage, the Johnsons moved to Connecticut, Atlanta and Princeton, NJ so that Johnson could pursue theological studies.
In 1900, the couple and their three children settled in Nashville where Reverend Johnson was appointed pastor of Saint Paul AME Church and Johnson established a new medical practice.
Johnson died on April 26, 1901 of childbirth complications.