Bousfield, Midian O.
Midian O. Bousfield
Physician, business executive
The need for the recognition of African American health concerns along with a strong voice regarding education and the entrepreneurial spirit bolstered the groundbreaking contributions of Midian Othello Bousfield. Bousfield's successes as the Army Medical Corp's first African American colonel, the first African American member of Chicago's board of education, and president of Supreme Liberty Life Insurance changed attitudes regarding segregation in the North and the South. His successes, which follow a conservative approach for social change, were realized well before the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Midian Othello Bousfield was born on August 22, 1885 to Willard Hayman and Cornelia Catherine Gilbert Bousfield. Willard Hayman was a barber and businessperson who set the stage for his son's interest in business. Education and activism as promoted by W. E. B. Du Bois's social agenda for the "talented tenth" inspired Bousfield; he graduated from the University of Kansas in 1907 with a bachelor's degree and 1909 with an M.D. from Northwestern University in Chicago. Bousfield exemplified the forward-thinking attitude of the time toward self-improvement and the advancement of the African American community. After serving as an intern at Howard University's Freedman's Hospital in 1910, Bousfield followed medical prospects that took him to Brazil in 1911. This venture did not work out as hoped, but before returning to Kansas City he spent time prospecting for gold. He practiced in Kansas City until 1914 before moving to Chicago with his new bride, Maudelle Tanner Brown. Chicago would see both their careers and their family grow. The couple had one child.
Initially in Chicago, Bousfield spent time as secretary of the Railway Men's Association, an African American railroad union. He also served as school health officer and school tuberculosis physician. During the five years Bousfield served as secretary to the railroad union, membership soared from 250 to 10,000 and included African Americans from all over the country. In 1919 he gave up his railroad affiliation and became one of the original incorporators of the Liberty Life Insurance Company. Bousfield began this new business opportunity as medical director and vice president. After ten years, he became president and successfully completed a merger, forming the reorganized Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company. He continued to serve as medical director and chairman of its executive committee.
- Born in Tipton, Missouri on August 22
- Receives B.A. from State University of Kansas
- Receives M.D. from Northwestern University School of Medicine
- Completes internship at Freedmen's Hospital, Washington D.C.
- Prospects in Brazil
- Marries Maudelle Tanner Brown
- Becomes school health officer and school tuberculosis physician in Chicago, Illinois
- Serves as secretary of the Railway Men's Association
- Serves as incorporator, medical director, and vice-president of Liberty Life Insurance Company
- Serves as medical director and president of Liberty Life Insurance Company; president of Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company
- Becomes director of Negro Health for Julius Rosenwald Fund
- Becomes first African American member of Chicago's board of education
- Becomes Medical Corp's first African American colonel, U.S. Army all-black hospital at Fort Huachuca, Arizona
- Assists in organizing Provident Medical Associates (funds education for aspiring African American specialists)
- Dies in Chicago on February 16
As physician and businessman, Bousfield saw his interests become more focused. He saw a need to improve health care for the underserved African American population in the South and to improve the training opportunities and thus the quality of African American physicians. Bousfield championed these issues for the rest of his life. Understanding the need for a broad base of influence, Bousfield worked with Michael M. Davis, the medical director of the Chicago-based Julius Rosenwald Fund. He convinced Davis and others of the need and the opportunity for improving African American hospitals, increasing training for nurses and doctors, and providing more medical training opportunities for African American medical professionals. Bousfield's persuasiveness and straight talk made way for his appointment as director of Negro health for the Julius Rosenwald Fund in 1934. Bousfield developed programs that helped to improve care in African American hospitals and created positions for doctors in southern health agencies. He fulfilled these goals with strong support from the Rosenwald Fund until 1942. The commitment of this white organization and the determination of Bousfield resulted in decreasing the medical disparity created by segregation.
In concert with his work in the Rosenwald Fund, Bousfield became president of the all-African American National Medical Association, which placed him in the forefront as spokesman for African American medicine. He used the opportunity to become the first African American speaker at the American Public Health Association. His speech was published in the American Journal of Public Health. He bluntly stated in his speech that health officials "so complacently review, year after year, the unfavorable vital statistical reports of one-tenth of the population and make no special effort to correct them." He firmly attributed this lack of action to racist blinders. Because of these statements, a more sensitive approach was realized by health professionals. Never before had such a direct and clear perspective of neglected African American health care been presented to the association.
Seizes Opportunities to Serve
White leaders in Chicago did not overlook Bousfield's abilities as a leader, businessman, and physician. Opportunities to serve his community were offered and he embraced them. One such opportunity came in 1939, when he was appointed the first African American member of the Chicago board of education. This appointment had been sought by the African American community for twenty five years. It placed the Bousfield family firmly in the arena of African American education. Bousfield's wife, Maudelle Brown Bousfield, was the first African American dean in the Chicago schools in 1926 and assigned in 1928 as the first African American principal in Chicago.
In 1942, Bousfield was again called, but to a broader stage for service. He was selected to operate the U.S. Army's first and largest all-African American hospital at an Army Post in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. He enlisted, making the rank of lieutenant colonel, and retired as the Medical Corp's first African American colonel. His facility was so competent that many whites sought care at Fort Huachuca in preference to their own medical care facilities.
Midian Othello Bousfield died February 16, 1948 at his home in Chicago. Although Bousfield never joined the NAACP, he was a key leader for the Urban League. He remained close to the white power structure and used his influences to advocate for issues of importance. Just two years before his death, in 1946, Bousfield helped to organize the Provident Medical Association. This organization of prominent and progressive African American doctors in Chicago set about to support and fund medical specialists across the spectrum. Bousfield actively engaged in change for health care, insurance, and education, which made huge strides toward equality and opportunity for African American citizens. Because of Bousfield's efforts, the transition to integration in the health profession in the 1960s was more readily acceptable.
Murray, Florence, ed. The Negro Handbook 1949. New York: Macmillan, 1949, p. 347.
Who's Who of the Colored Race. Vol. 1. Chicago: Who's Who in Colored America Publishing, 1915, p. 31.
Yenser, Thomas, ed. Who's Who in Colored America. 6th ed. Brooklyn: Thomas Yenser Publisher, 1942, pp. 67-68.
Much of Bousfield's professional correspondence can be found in the Julius Rosenwald Fund papers in the Fisk University; John Hope and Aurelia Elizabeth Franklin Library (Special Collections) in Nashville, Tennessee; and the Peter Marshall Murray papers in the Moorland-Spingarn Research Collection at Howard University in Washington D. C.
Lean'tin L. Bracks