Editor’s Note: Dr. Jones was not known to have practiced medicine in Chatham-Kent which is part of the criteria to be included on the Chatham-Kent Physicians Tribute website. However, it is believed that Dr. Jones assisted a local physician, Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott who mentored her desire to become a physician and therefore it is more than likely that she cared for citizens of Chatham-Kent that were ill or injured. Also it was felt that her achievement of becoming the first black woman who was born in Canada and graduated from medical school deserved to be recognized on this website. Dr. Jones was also the first black woman who graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School.
Dr. Sophia Bethena Jones was born in Chatham, Ontario on the 16th of May, 1857. Her father James Monroe Jones, was born into slavery in North Carolina on the 10th of January 1821. His father, Allen Jones purchased the freedom of his family in 1829 and James Monroe Jones went on to become one of the first graduates of colour from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1849 with a degree’s in philosophy and arts. Mr. Jones married Emily Francis in London, Ontario on the 16th of November, 1854. Dr. Jones’s father taught school in Chatham for many years and he was a gunsmith. Mr. Jones spoke 7 languages and he was a highly esteemed and respected member of the Chatham community. Mr. Jones was a trusted friend of John Brown who lead an armed band of abolitionists on a raid of a federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry in West Virginia in October of 1859. Prior to the raid, Mr. Brown and James Monroe Jones attended a convention in Chatham in May of 1858, where John Brown sought support in a bid to force the end of slavery in the United States. The raid on the arsenal failed and Mr. Brown was captured and hung for treason on the 2nd of December, 1859. Mr. Jones lived in Chatham until his death on the 6th of November, 1905 but he died in Michigan where he had travelled to visit family.
Dr. Sophia Jones was the 2nd of 6 children and her siblings were; Anne Holland Jones, Fredericka Florence Jones, Emily Priscilla Jones, George Allen Monroe Jones and William Livingstone Jones (who died at the age of 23).
Dr. Jones attended a segregated school in Chatham and was an exceptional student. Her ambitions to become a physician were thought to be mentored by Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott who was a physician in Chatham from 1871 until 1881. Dr. Jones was accepted to the University of Toronto in 1879. After attending the University of Toronto for 1 year, Dr. Jones became disillusioned with the limited medical education offered to females. She enrolled at the University of Michigan Medical School and graduated as the first black female physician who graduated from that institution in 1885. Dr. Jones was also the first black female born in Canada to become a physician. (The first female black woman who graduated from medical school was Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, and she graduated from the New England Female Medical College in 1864.)
Upon her graduation, Dr. Jones took a position at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia as the Director of the school infirmary and organizing the nurse’s training courses. She was the first black faculty member at the college. Dr. Jones stayed at Spelman College until 1888 and then she went on to establish medical practices in St Louis, Philadephia and Kansas City, Missouri. According to the 1900 U.S. Census, Dr. Jones lived with her sister Fredericka Jones at 717 Brooklyn Street in Philadelphia. Two of her sisters, Anna and Fredericka both became school teachers.
By 1910, Dr. Jones lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This was after the death of her father and she lived with her mother and her brother George Jones and George’s wife and their 4 children at a home located at 212 Fourteenth Street South. Her occupation was listed as a physician.
Dr. Jones had a number of publications to her credit including an article in 1913 titled, “Fifty Years of Public Negro Health”. This article focused on the rate of increased death for Black people and infant mortality for a number of reasons. In her article she wrote the following paragraph, “It is not too much to expect victory for a race, which, in fifty years, has reduced its illiteracy from an estimated percentage of 95 to one of 33.3 as given by the census figures of 1910. Let the teaching of the general elementary physiology, including sex physiology, and sanitation by placed on a rational basis in all coloured schools and colleges, in the hands of the men and women thoroughly trained and with full knowledge of the health problems named above, and there can be little doubt that the issue of the conflict will be such a rapidly declining death rate and reduced morbidity as will astonish the civilized world“.
Dr. Jones moved to Monrovia, California in 1917. According to the 1920 census she lived with her sister Anna Jones, her brother George Jones and his wife and children and her sister Emily Jones at a home located at 1301 South Shamrock Avenue. When Dr. Jones retired from the practice of medicine around 1922 she worked at the orange grove in Monrovia owned by her family.
Dr. Jones never married and she had no children.
Dr. Jones died on the 9th of September, 1932 in Monrovia, California. She was buried at Live Oak Memorial Park Cemetery in Monrovia, California. Her sister Anna Holland Jones died 6 months before Dr. Jones and she was also buried at Live Oak Memorial Park Cemetery.
The University of Michigan Medical School has honoured Dr. Jones in a number of ways. They founded the Sophia Jones Lectureship on Infectious Diseases and named a conference room, The Sophia B. Jones Room. The Fitzbutler Jones Society was established at the University of Michigan and provides Black medical students, scientists and researchers with financial support and mentorship during and after their education at the University of Michigan Medical School. (Dr. William Henry Fitzbutler was the first African American to graduate from the University of Michigan Medical School. He graduated in 1872.)
Buried in the family plot at Forest Hill Cemetery in Ann Arbor, Michigan are her parents and her siblings, Fredericka Florence Jones and William Livingstone Jones.
*The Editor would like to thank John Steckley for his assistance.