Joyce Yerwood

Joyce Yerwood

Induction Category:
Science & Health

Born: 1909

Died: 1987

Inducted: 2016

Town: Stamford

The first female African American physician in Fairfield County, Dr. Joyce Yerwood devoted her 50-year career to providing quality medical care for low-income women, children, and families. She was a tireless advocate for social justice and equality who impacted thousands of lives over her lifetime of civic engagement including founding the Yerwood Center, the first community center for African Americans in Stamford.

Ursula Joyce Yerwood was born on January 5, 1909, in Victoria, Tex., the younger of two daughters. Her mother, Melissa Brown Yerwood, was a schoolteacher who died soon after Joyce’s birth. Her father, Charles Yerwood, was one of fewer than 20 African American physicians in the entire state of Texas. Raising his two daughters largely on his own, Dr. Charles Yerwood brought Joyce and her sister Connie along as he made house calls and treated patients. This early exposure to the medical profession inspired both sisters to pursue careers in medicine. They were also inspired by their grandfather’s Civil War stories from his time as both a slave and a solider. As Joyce wrote late in her life, “As a former slave boy, he was proud of his educated girls and boys. In his way, he influenced us—our pride, our desires to try and go a step further.”

Wishing his daughters to become proper young ladies, Dr. Charles Yerwood encouraged them to take classes in music and art and enrolled them as teenagers in the Eliza Dee Home, a finishing school for African American girls. Both girls were incredibly bright and sought to follow in their father’s footsteps into the medical field. After high school, Joyce enrolled at Samuel Huston College in Austin, Tex., where she graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in 1928. She then set off for Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. (her father’s alma mater) with her sister. The Yerwood sisters were the only two female students in their first year program. Before classes had even begun, the school encouraged them to enroll as dental students rather than as medical students, seeing dentistry as a more appropriate course of study for young women.

Dr. Joyce Yerwood graduated with honors in 1933 and went on to complete her internship in Kansas City, Kan., and her residency in Philadelphia, Penn. Throughout this time, Dr. Yerwood made a name for herself as a pioneer in public health. At the time, women only accounted for about 5% of doctors nationwide—and African American women were just a tiny fraction of that already small group.

In 1936, she married Dr. Joseph Carwin, a fellow physician, and the couple moved to Stamford, Conn. Dr. Yerwood was a housewife for a short time but, after about a year, decided to open her own medical practice and chose Port Chester, N.Y. After 18 years of serving the underserved through her practice, she moved her office to Stamford, Conn., becoming the first female African American physician in Fairfield County. But her influence in the Stamford community extended well beyond her medical practice.

In addition to delivering more than 2,000 babies, Dr. Yerwood devoted herself to the promotion of educational and cultural opportunities for African American youth in her community. Her father’s insistence on art and music education became useful as she founded the Little Negro Theater, a performing arts group that she founded in 1939. As the group grew, Dr. Yerwood raised funds to purchase a storefront on West Main Street in Stamford. In 1943, the location was transformed into the Stamford Negro Community Center, which moved to its current location in 1975 when it was renamed the Yerwood Center in her honor.

Incredibly civic-minded and tremendously passionate for the people of her community, Dr. Yerwood was a much sought-after Board member for various organizations in the greater Stamford area. She served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Union Baptist Church and was an active member of the Eastern Star, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the Girl Friends, Inc., the Soroptimists Club, the Stamford Medical Society, the National Medical Association, the Stamford Hospital Corporation, and the World Medical Association. She and her husband were also instrumental in founding the Greenwich Chapter of the NAACP. Dr. Yerwood received many community service awards and honors in her lifetime including the Stamford Mayor’s Award, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Heritage Award, and the Hannah G. Solomon Award.

She maintained her medical practice until 1981, but even after her retirement continued to blaze new trails through her service as Medical Director of the Methadone Clinic of Stamford’s Liberation Program and through her continued support of the Yerwood Center. Dr. Joyce Yerwood passed away in 1987 in her Old Greenwich home.

During This Time
1946 - 1965: Women’s Activism in Conservative Times