Natalia M. Tanner was the first black female doctor to be certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. She was also the first African American president of the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Tanner moved to Chicago where her father, Joseph Rush Tanner, practiced medicine, and her mother, Doris Murphy Tanner, was a housewife. Tanner attended Englewood High School, graduating in 1939. She spent the first two years of her undergraduate education at Fisk University, in Nashville, Tennessee, then transferred to the University of Chicago’s premedical program.
After earning her bachelor’s degree, Tanner attended Meharry Medical College in Nashville, graduating in 1946, then moving to New York City, where she was an intern at Harlem Hospital in 1946 and 1947. She then returned to the University of Chicago for her residency in pediatrics, becoming the institution’s first African-American resident. She also trained at Meharry’s Hubbard Hospital for a time; she finished her postgraduate education in 1950.
She married in 1951 and moved to Detroit, Michigan where she became the city’s first black board-certified pediatrician. She had been accepted as a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics while still in Illinois, its first African-American fellow, but was spurned by the Detroit Pediatric Society and the Michigan chapter of the AAP. Despite discrimination, Tanner became the first African-American physician at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, a still-segregated institution.
Tanner was also a professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine in 1968. In 1983 she became the first woman and first African-American to be president of the Michigan AAP chapter. Tanner died on July 14, 2018.