A physician and community health activist, Ethelene Crockett was the first African-American woman to practice in the specialty of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Michigan and the first woman to serve as president of the American Lung Association. Driven by her belief that physicians could treat their patients more effectively by treating the community as a whole, she also worked tirelessly to eradicate community health programs.
Ethelene Crockett was born in 1914 in St. Joseph, Michigan and grew up in Jackson, Michigan. She attended Jackson Junior College and graduated from University of Michigan. She married George Crockett, Jr. who was an accomplished lawyer, judge and congressman in his own right, and they had three children before she decided to attend medical school at Howard University in 1942. She served her medical internship at Detroit Receiving Hospital but had to serve her residency in a New York City hospital because no Detroit hospital would accept an African-American woman. Crockett finished her residency and began practicing in Detroit in 1952. She maintained her practice until retiring in 1972. After retiring from her practice, Dr. Crockett continued her community work. From 1974 to 1976 she chaired a task force that sought to bring improved reading instruction to the Detroit Public Schools. In 1978 she became the first woman president of the American Lung Association, an office in which she could only serve briefly due to the progression of the cancer that took her life.
Dr. Crockett believed that community health was essential to the health of individuals. Physicians could not operate in a vacuum, caring for their patients only after they walked through the office door. She divided her time between her private practice and public health work. She was instrumental in establishing Detroit's Model Neighborhood Comprehensive Health Program, which provided health education and medical services throughout Detroit's neighborhoods. Dr. Crockett also directed the Detroit Maternal Infant Care Project at Crittenden Hospital and served as an assistant clinical professor of community medicine at Wayne State University. Dr. Crockett traveled throughout Detroit, lecturing on gynecology and family planning and became an outspoken advocate for liberalized abortion laws, arguing in particular that poor women should have access to public health funds for abortions.
Dr. Crockett's dedication to her community was also represented in her service to a variety of organizations as a volunteer. She served as president of the Detroit Library Board and on the board of directors of the Tuberculosis and Health Society, United Community Services, the Health Care Institute of Wayne State University, and the Michigan Cancer Society. Dr. Crockett was also on the executive board and served as the chairperson of the Health Committee of the New Detroit, Inc.
Dr. Crockett received numerous awards for her years of service. In 1971, the Detroit Free Press named her one of the "Nine Most Successful Women." In 1972, she received the "Howardite of the Year" award and was named "Woman of the Year" by the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. The Detroit Medical Society selected her "Physician of the Year" in 1978.