Elsie Smith
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Elsie Smith

Community Resident



Mrs. Elsie Smith was born on October 29, 1915 in Tullahoma, Tennessee. She and her family came to Detroit in the early 1920's in search of work. She attended the Detroit Public Schools throughout her childhood and graduated from Cass Technical High School in 1933. Upon graduating, she entered a program in social work at Wayne (now Wayne State) University. In 1942, Mrs. Smith was hired as a clerk in the office of Chief of Ordnance in the War Department and served in this position until the end of World War II. She was relocated and worked for the Veterans Administration from the late 1940's until retiring in the mid-1970's.

Though not directly associated with organized medicine in any specific way, Mrs. Smith and her family participated in the maintenance of health care in the African American community. At a time when many African Americans did not wish to go to a hospital because of a belief that it was the place where one went to die, her mother served the community as an informal health advisor. She would assist people through their illnesses, changing beds, administering medicine, and assisting with meals. Mrs. Smith's father was knowledgeable about various folk remedies, including tea made from roasted pig's hooves as a cure for pneumonia.

Her family was very much in touch with contemporary health care professionals. The family lived in the same neighborhood as Dr. Isaacs and Dr. Harry M. Nuttall. Mrs. Smith was often sent to bring the resident doctor to the home of sick neighbors. Her mother thought very highly of Dr. Daisy Northcross's medical skills. As is the case today, the use of many home remedy treatments was a supplement to, rather than a substitute for professional treatment.

Mrs. Smith's community involvement includes membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Eastern Star, a closed, philanthropic organization of women.

Tape recorded interview;
audio clip

Discusses attitudes and beliefs about health held by some African Americans which may be passed on to other generations

I remember once that one of my aunts took a...she had been in Grace Hospital and she had her fourth child, I think, and they were keeping her a long time because they said she was anemic, and finally my mother said, “Well, there’s something on the market they call...”—I don’t remember what it was now—but I think [that] it was just some wine in that bottle, because after they gave it to my aunt, you know, it seemed like it built her blood up and so then at the hospital they created some kind of medicine for her similar to that and it did help. Now that was a patent medicine, I don’t remember what they called it now, but it was a patent medicine and it was advertised on the radio…It smelled like [wine]…and wine will do the same thing, it’ll build up the blood.


William G. Anderson
Reginald P. Ayala
Arthur W Boddie
Wilma Brakefield-Caldwell
Henry C. Bryant Jr.
Alice Burton
Waldo L. Cain
James W. Collins
Claude and Vivienne Cooper
Gladys B. Dillard
George Gaines Jr.
Leon Gant
Herman J. Glass Sr.
Della Goodwin
Joseph B. Harris
Frank P. Iacobell
Horace L. Jefferson
Sidney B. Jenkins
Arthur Johnson
Rachel B. Keith
William E. Lawson
Josephine Love
Hayward Maben Jr.
Berna C. Mason
Suesetta T. McCree
Dorothy Mottley
David C. Northcross Jr.
Ophelia B. Northcross
Marjorie Peebles-Meyers
Frank P. Raiford III
Garther Roberson Jr.
S. L. Roberson
Elsie Smith
Fannie L. Starks
Lionel F. Swan
Natalia M. Tanner
Oretta Mae Todd
I. Clara Webb
Charles F. Whitten
Charles H. Wright
Watson Young


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Copyright , Kellogg African American Health Care Project, 2000.
Text and images may not be used without the permission of the Kellogg African American Health Care Project.