The medical Northcross family of Detroit

Herb Boyd | 6/22/2017, 12:03 p.m.
Among the many untold Black stories in Detroit’s history is the phenomenal contributions made by doctors, and especially by African-American ...
Dr. David Northcross Jr.

Among the many untold Black stories in Detroit’s history is the phenomenal contributions made by doctors, and especially by African-American physicians. This story, or lack thereof, is not uniquely Detroit’s. Other communities with sizable Black populations across the nation have not had the doctors of the community profiled and highlighted.

I was drawn to this topic after reading about Dr. Susan La Fleshce Picotte, who was featured on the Google page and considered the first Native-American to earn a medical degree.

A survey of pioneering African-American women doctors in Detroit reveals a number of notables, including Dr. Lula Belle Stewart, Dr. Ethylene Crockett, Dr. Rachel Boone Keith, Dr. Marjorie Peebles-Meyers (she was the first African-American female to graduate from the Wayne State University Medical School) and Dr. Daisy Northcross.

The last gets the focus this time because she and her husband, Dr. David Northcross, founded, after being in Detroit only a year, the first Black-owned and operated hospital in Detroit in 1917.

Daisy Hill was born in Montgomery, Ala., Dec. 9, 1881. On July 4 of that year, in not too far away Tuskegee, the great educator Booker T. Washington established the Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University. She did not attend Tuskegee, but traveled to Chicago and matriculated at Bennett Medical College, from which she graduated in 1913, two years before it closed. It was also two years before the death of Washington.

In 1916, the Drs. Northcross settled in Detroit and almost immediately set about the quest to open a hospital. Within months, the two enterprising medical practitioners were breaking ground for Mercy General Hospital, located in the city’s storied Black Bottom on 668 Winder St. Along with operating the hospital, for about a decade the Northcross couple had their own drugstore.

The hospital would provide the necessary services for Black soldiers returning from World War I, who might be discriminated against by the city’s white hospitals. The Drs. Northcross would also help pave the way for the founding of the larger Dunbar Hospital, where a roster of eminent African-American physicians would get their start.

Daisy Northcross apparently attended the University of Michigan because she’s listed in the Black Medical Graduates of the University of Michigan, although this fact remains unconfirmed. She was clearly a very generous woman, and in several publications of community organizations her donations are listed, including the Internal Medicine Contingent Fund.

For many years, the hospital, a three story brick building, was one of the most prominent businesses in Black Bottom. “The Northcrosses also were able to hold nurse training sessions, which prepared young women to operate in the medical field,” according to a story from a brochure from Wayne State University on an exhibit of Black doctors in Michigan. These positions were some of the first jobs many African-American women received in the area. The hospital provided a strong economic base and most importantly it met the needs of the people. The Northcrosses were pleased to serve the Black community of Detroit. Their hospital continued to grow and they were able to add an additional wing to the hospital in 1960.