Eulogy for Susan McKinney Steward
March 7, 1918 — Wilberforce OH
I come not to deliver a studied eulogy on our lamented Doctor Steward, but rather to pay a heartfelt tribute to one who was a very dear friend and a very close friend.
Her passing was so sudden and unexpected that it is a shock to each one of us. It is one of the many instances that remind us of the uncertain tenure of human life. And so today we meet to pay a tribute to the memory of a great woman.
She was great in the estimation of those who knew her capacity, her ability, her real worth. She was not a spectacular woman. She was modest. She did not indulge in the modern methods of advertising those qualifications that fitted her so preeminently for public service.
A woman absolutely self-reliant, honest to herself and to her friends. She acted upon her own judgment and when she had made up her mind that a thing was right and ought to be done, SHE DID IT. She had the courage of her convictions; a faithful, reliant woman, honest in all the relations of life; loyal to her family, the public and her friends.
A great woman has departed from among us, great in intellect, great in heart, great in all things that make for better conditions in the world. She scorned to rise upon the shoulders of others. Rather would she put her own shoulder to the service of some less fortunate. She was one of those generous natures that love peace, order, and harmony.
But she could strike, and strike hard, in what she believed to be a righteous cause. With her it was justice on the one side, and injustice on the other. The line was sharply drawn. There was no middle ground of expediency or compromise.
Her success in life did not arise from accident. She was a student. She applied her mind with all the intensiveness of her nature.
She was a model housekeeper, and wisely ruled her household ever holding the admiration of her husband and family.
She was a musician of note, understanding that master of instruments, the pipe organ, and served as organist of the Bridge Street A.M.E. Church in Brooklyn 28 years, and in a Baptist Church of that city, two years.
She identified herself with every good movement in the communities in which she lived. Coming to Wilberforce as a stranger, she set about to cooperate, to build constructively. She despised the idea of rule or ruin.
We find her engaged in the following activities: College Aid Society, of which she was president; Mite Missionary Society, of which se was treasurer; Young Women’s Christian Association, member of the Advisory Committee; Neighborhood Club, of which she was treasurer; Stewardess Board of the church, a member, Temperance Union, active member; Red Cross Society, active member; Negro Soldiers’ War Relief League, active member, giving not only of her earthly substance, but the energy of her soul.
And now I come to speak of the strong bent in the character of this notable woman — Physician-Friend. Not even the ministry of the gospel bears such close relationship to a family or an individual as does the physician. Graduating with honor from the New York Medical College and Hospital for Women and taking post-graduate work in the Long Island Medical College, and practicing continuously for 45 years, she was thoroughly equipped to stand beside the highest in this land; and when in after years the search light of history is thrown full upon her work, it will be shown that she was one of the great physicians of her generation. Her record at Wilberforce is phenomenal. When given complete control and left unhampered, Doctor Steward never lost a cause. I very much doubt if any other physician in the county or state can show such low mortality record as can be produced by the case books of Doctor Steward during her splendid career of twenty-one years at Wilberforce. More still, during her long practice of forty-five years there has never been as much as a hint toward dishonorable practice aimed against this Mother in Israel.
Ah! In these twenty-one years, how she has stood by this community! And how happy we are, we who knew her wroth, that stood by her!
We see her entering the darkened chamber and in sympathy go down in-to the valley of motherhood, rescue the young wife from her peril, and fan the flickering spark of babyhood into the bright and healthy flame of life. We see her, hopeful and confident, as she enters our halls and dormitories and brings to health and happiness the fever stricken boy or girl. We see her tear of sympathy and feel the pressure of that kindly hand a we stand by the bedside of father, mother, brother or sister, and see the life ebb away and hear her say: “God’s will be done.”
We cannot think of her as gone!
“I cannot, and I will not say —
She is dead. She has passed away.
With a cheery smile and a wave of the hand,
She has wandered into an unknown land,
And left us dreaming how very fair
It needs must be, since she is there.”
Wilberforce can never be the same without Doctor Steward. Many a fond mother will start out of her sleep at the midnight hour to hear the moan and stand helpless before her little one, and cry with the poet:
“O, for the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!”
Doctor Steward often said that she had no patience with pain. She had relieved so many sufferers by her knowledge and skill that the Great Physician decreed that she should suffer no pain. So He laid His hand upon her and took her unto Himself.
We are not at this time reconciled or comforted. But if our grief be great, how much more so must be that of her beloved husband, her idolized son and daughter. How she loved to talk about them! They were her jewels.
Grieve not dear ones. Look away from the tomb to that land of fair delight. If Doctor Steward could speak she would say to us:
“When I am gone,
Above me raise no lofty stone
Perfect in human handicraft.
Say this of me and I shall be content,
That in the Master’s work my life was spent.
Say not that I was either great or good,
But, Mary like, “She hath done what she could.”
Source: Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction, by Hallie Q. Brown (New York: Oxford University Press) 1988, pp. 165-168.