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The Sheffield’s and Healthcare for Black New Orleanians

Photograph of the St. Berchman’s Industrial Life Insurance Company building

Dr. Jesse O. Sheffield was a long-time staff member at the Flint-Goodridge Hospital, which was the only hospital serving African Americans in New Orleans during the era of segregation. Dr. Sheffield was born in Texas, and earned his medical degree at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. After interning in New Orleans, he decided to settle there. He served as a member of the House of Delegates of the National Medical Association. His wife, Gertrude Gonzalez Sheffield was a native of New Orleans, where she served as southern zone director, member of the advisory board, treasurer, and eventually president of the Women’s Auxiliary of the National Medical Association. Both of the Sheffield’s were stockholders in the St. John Berchman's Industrial Life Insurance Company, which provided critical access to medical coverage for the African American population.

Photograph of Dr. Sheffield at his desk

Aside from greeting cards, their collection contains little personal correspondence; instead, it offers a valuable look at healthcare for black New Orleanians, and at the administrative and day-to-day activities of the insurance company. The collection includes financial records, employee policies and records, monthly and annual reports for the insurance company, but it is the correspondence that gives the best overview. Letters and memos chronicle events, such as board meetings, inquiries from policyholders, internal issues, and suggestions for general improvement.

Portrait of Mrs. Gertrude Sheffield

When Dr. Sheffield died suddenly on December 7, 1953 of a cerebral hemorrhage, it signaled a new reality for Mrs. Sheffield. In the correspondence she generated in January of 1954, she often commented on her grief and described herself as being in a fog over her husband’s death. Mrs. Sheffield was able work through her grief and continued with her duties, as a member of the Women’s Auxiliary of the National Medical Association. She also stayed active in community organizations. She had a keen interest in volunteer work and served as a volunteer teacher and worked with the Light House of the Blind. Mrs. Sheffield was a member of the Blessed Virgin Sodality and Senior Citizens at the Epiphany Catholic Church. She died June 21, 2004 at the age of 94.

Funding assistance for the archival processing of the Sheffield Family Papers was received from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Images from the Sheffield Family Papers. Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.

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