McKane, Alice Woodby (1865–1948)

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McKane, Alice Woodby (1865–1948)

African-American physician and educator . Name variations: Alice Woodby-McKane. Born Alice Woodbyin 1865 in Bridgewater, Pennsylvania; died on March 6, 1948; daughter of Charles Woodby and Elizabeth B. (Frazier) Woodby; attended public school in Bridgewater; Hampton Institute, 1883–86; Institute for Colored Youth in Pennsylvania, 1886–89; Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, M.D., 1892; married Cornelius McKane (a physician), on February 2, 1893; children: Cornelius, Jr. (b. 1897), Alice Fanny (b. 1898), William Francis (b. 1902).

Selected works:

contributed to a number of religious magazines and journals; The Fraternal Society Sick Book (1913), which dealt with art of healing; Clover Leaves (Boston, 1914), a book of poems.

After a childhood in which both her parents died before she was seven years old and she suffered blindness for three years, Alice Woodby McKane received a medical degree from the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1892. She then worked as resident physician and instructor in physiology and chemistry at the Haines Institute, founded by Lucy Craft Laney , and privately taught a class on nursing. In 1893, she married another physician, Cornelius McKane, who would become an early civil-rights activist. The grandson of a Liberian king, he had been born in British Guiana (now Guyana), and together they founded the first training school for nurses in southeast Georgia in 1893. The school doubled as a free clinic for destitute people, although lack of funds and space forced the clinic to turn away about ten patients a week.

McKane and her husband then traveled to Monrovia, Liberia, where they helped to organize health facilities and she served as the Assistant United States Pension Medical Examiner for Civil War veterans who had moved to Liberia. She also co-organized and headed the department of women's diseases at Monrovia's first hospital, but was forced to return to Georgia after she contracted an African fever. Regaining her health in 1896, she and her husband established the McKane Hospital for Women and Children and Training School for Nurses in Savannah. Several white physicians who became interested in their project donated money and helped to treat the sick.

In search of better educational opportunities for their three children, the McKanes then moved to Boston, where they reestablished their medical practice in a matter of weeks. McKane concentrated on treating diseases affecting women, and also lectured weekly to nurses in training at the Plymouth (Massachusetts) Hospital. An active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) after its founding in 1910, she was also involved in the women's suffrage movement and wrote magazine articles and poetry. McKane published The Fraternal Society Sick Book, about healing, in 1913, and a book of poems, Clover Leaves, a year later. She died in 1948.


Bailey, Brooke. The Remarkable Lives of 100 Women Healers and Scientists. Holbrook, MA: Bob Adams, 1994.

Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. Notable Black American Women. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1992.

suggested reading:

Davis, Marianna W., ed. Contributions of Black Women to America, Vol. II. Columbia, SC: Kenday Press, 1992.


Papers on Alice Woodby McKane are in the Black Women Physicians Project, Archives and Special collections on Women, Medical College of Pennsylvania. The archives of Hampton University also have materials on McKane.

Jo Anne Meginnes , freelance writer, Brookfield, Vermont

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McKane, Alice Woodby (1865–1948)

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