On BPR: The oft-overlooked doctor who blazed the trail for black female physicians in Bklyn and beyond

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Let’s hear it for the girls!

Brooklyn Paper Radio this week took a page from its sister podcast Power Women, dedicating its latest episode to those females whose contributions to Kings County truly made it the city’s better borough.

Co-hosts Anthony Rotunno and Johnny Kunen recognized the culmination of another Women’s History Month by inviting Brooklyn Historical Society curator Erin Wuebker on the show to fill them in on an upcoming exhibition she is putting together for the cultural center, which will showcase the life and legacy of a little-known local doctor who blazed the trail for future female physicians when she started practicing in the County of Kings in the 19th century.

Susan Smith McKinney Steward — who lived in a neighborhood locals then called Weeksville, and now call Crown Heights — upended convention by becoming New York State’s first black female doctor, and the country’s third, according to Wubker, who said history has often failed to give the pioneering physician the recognition she deserves.

“Even though she was well known in her lifetime, most people haven’t heard of her,” Wubker told our hosts. “There aren’t any major biographies about her. She is really an important pioneer when we’re talking about both women’s history, and black history, for Brooklyn and also the nation as a whole.”

The 1847-born Steward treated borough women and children, a focus Wuebker said was largely due to societal conventions of her time. Her career will be featured as part of the curator’s forthcoming “Taking Care of Brooklyn” exhibition, which will explore the history of care and public health in the borough when it opens at the Historical Society in May.

But the show didn’t exclusively spotlight ladies — the hosts also welcomed a gent poised to make his own mark on Kings County as the incoming editor-in-chief of Brooklyn Paper, and Schneps Media’s other local newspapers.

Zach Gewelb, who previously ran our sister TimesLedger newspapers published in Queens, this week took the reins atop our company’s Brooklyn editorial operation, succeeding Rotunno, who gave a heartfelt thanks to those colleagues, readers, and listeners who inspired him during his almost two years with the borough’s number-one news source.

“Brooklyn is my home and it will always be my number one love,” said Rotunno, who is leaving the organization to be a senior editor at New York Magazine.

Gewelb enthusiastically promised to hit the ground running, assuring Brooklynites they can expect the same style of deeply reported, hyper-local news to fill the Paper’s pages, and website, under his reign.

“In community news, the people are what is most important, and whether it’s sports or in the arts, our job is to highlight those people,” he said. “I can’t say enough how excited I am for this opportunity. I am absolutely thrilled to be here.”

To learn more about the Paper’s future, and the borough’s medical past, you’ll have to tune in to the show — which will, of course, go on under Gewelb, but may take a week or two to return to the airwaves as he settles in.

Brooklyn Paper Radio, recorded at our studio Downtown, debuts new episodes every Tuesday, and can be found, as always, on, iTunes, and Stitcher.

Posted 1:40 pm, March 26, 2019
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