Monday, March 26, 2018

A century on this earth

Dr. Ellamae Simmons was born March 26, 1918. That makes her 100 years old today. We celebrated her in Oakland, California, this weekend, at the retirement residence that is now her home. After the speeches and toasts, the photographer for the event asked Ellamae's niece, "Why didn't you tell me I was photographing this amazing woman. She's like, the first in everything." Indeed, she was. The first black woman allergist and immunologist in the country, and, before she went to medical school on the GI Bill, one of eight army nurses chosen to integrate the US armed forces during World War II. The first black woman to live in the dorms at Ohio State, the first black woman physician at Kaiser, the first, the first, the first. She never met a closed door she didn't think she could shoulder open, usually with a twinkle in her eye, and a knowing deep down that she was worthy. Ellamae always made a way.

Her great great grand niece and nephew were among the five generations of her family who were present on Saturday to celebrate her wonderful life.

Her four stepdaughters with her second husband, a Tuskeegee airman who made history himself, flew from across the country to be there. The tall gentleman in the back is the grandson of the physician-professor who confronted Ellamae in nursing school and told her she needed to get out of there and go to medical school. It was another ten years before Ellamae managed that, but she never got turned aside.

One hundred red roses, one for each year of her extraordinary life. At that table by the window, we sat for hours over many days as Ellamae told me her stories. Gratefully, I received them, and wrote them down. We were just in time, because a year later, Ellamae had a stroke and became less talkative. She suffered another one last December, and doesn't speak very clearly anymore. But she can still grasp your hand with unbelievable strength, her eyes alight as she says, "I love you so much," clear as day. I love you, too, dear Ellamae. What a gift you are in my life. 


  1. A special day for two remarkable women---the doctor and you.

  2. It's wonderful that it was you she told her stories to, and you honor her so gracefully. That window seems like the perfect spot to sit and listen.
    She is an amazing woman and still so vibrant and pretty. Thanks, Angela, for bringing her story here. I would never have otherwise known about her and I am so glad that I do now.

  3. How very beautiful; what a shining light.

  4. What beautiul, special women! Both you and Dr. Simmons are extraordinary role models. I'm in awe at all her firsts. I'm happy I share a birthday with her, I feel like that's a gift.

  5. She is truly beautiful in that way which transcends physical glory but she certainly possesses that too.
    Thank you for reporting in on this event and the woman whose life it is a tribute to.

  6. I am always in awe of women like this. Women who broke barriers. I always wonder where they found the strength.

    I had a patient years ago. She was an old woman then. She told me that she had been the head of anesthesiology at the University Hospital during the war. After the war, her husband came home and she wanted to have children. He told her she couldn't be a doctor and have children, she had to pick. She became a mother. I'm thankful those days are past, for the most part.

  7. I am thankful you got to write her story before her medical problems began in earnest. Thank you for the link to purchase your book - I am looking forward to reading it.

  8. Beautiful double portrait of Ellamae and you. Sweet to see Ellamae's great great grand niece and nephew. Such an eventful day. Looking forward to reading Overcome.