Meta Loretta Christy was born in Indiana in October of 1895. Her name first appears in the 1900 census of Kokomo, Howard County, Indiana, as being four years old. Her father was John Franklin Christy—a schoolteacher, and later an attorney, and her mother was Arminda Stewart Christy—a dressmaker who had 6 children, 3 of whom were alive in 1900. In 1907, Meta and relatives were listed on the Cherokee rolls as having applied for membership in the Cherokee Nation, but were turned down. She is listed in the book Cherokee by Blood as residing in the household of Silas Shoecroft, who was listed as Cherokee. The 1900 census shows the Shoecrofts living in Muncie, Indiana, and the occupants of their house as African Americans.
In 1921, Dr. Christy graduated from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathy. She was the first black graduate from this college. Since 1995, The Student National Medical Association of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine has given their top honor, “The Meta L. Christy Award” in recognition of exemplary practice of osteopathic medicine: service to the community and inspiration to future doctors of osteopathic medicine. There is a 1921 photo showing Meta as the only black student in her class of 21 graduates.
After college, Meta moved to Las Vegas, New Mexico, where her brother Laroy Oran Christy lived until he left for Riverside, California (as noted on the 1930 census). With the advent of the railroad in 1880, Las Vegas quickly became a boomtown. It had distinct geographic districts in the first half of the 20th century: the Hispanic population lived in Old Town, the Anglo mercantile population in New Town, and the small black community along the railroad. Dr. Christy lived at 1215 Sulzbacher Avenue, near the railroad.
Dr. Christy appears in the 1930 Federal Census as living in Las Vegas City, San Miguel County, and as “head of household, house rented, female, Negro, 28 years old, single, place of birth—Indiana, place of birth of father and mother—Indiana, occupation –osteopath, general practice.” In the 1939 Las Vegas city directory, she is listed with Osteopathic Surgeon as her home address. In the 1947 city directory, she is listed with the additional information “homeowner”.
Dr. Christy was considered a “second mom to the whole neighborhood” said Mario Vasquez, who grew up across the street from her. He said she would take the neighborhood children on picnics, give them ice cream, and trade comic books. He recalls that she had a china doll collection. His sister, Annette Ortega, was taken in by Dr. Christy as a teenager in the early 1960s. She remembers her as “the most wonderful woman,” who took care of the sick in her community and never charged them a fee. She had a guesthouse made of stone as well as an herb garden on the property. Together, the three buildings served as a clinic, and Dr. Christy often housed up to 10 patients at a time while they convalesced.
Dr. Louise Taichert, who was a patient of Dr. Christy when she was around 17, described Meta as “lovely, very refined.” She said at that time, Meta lived with a gentleman who worked as a Pullman porter on the trains. Louise said that Dr. Christy and the porter were the only two black people in town. Annette Ortega believes they eventually married. Her husband predeceased her, though the date is unknown. Until the railroad left Las Vegas in the 1950s, other black people settled in the city, but many left with the railroad.
Other prominent Las Vegas citizens also remember Dr. Christy. Jesus Lopez—“Mama Lucy’s” son and a local attorney who hosts a radio show about Las Vegas history—recalls Dr. Christy driving a classic large black car in the late 1950s accompanied by her stylish friend, Mildred Eastmen. “Both women were dressed to the nines,” said Lopez. He was also her patient and said she healed him.
Editha Bartley, a well-known Las Vegas writer, recalled her father speaking of Dr. Christy with great respect. Her father, Dr. Carl Gellenthein, referred patients to Dr. Christy for follow-up house calls. Osteopaths were not allowed to practice in the local hospital.
In 1950, Dr. Christy became a member of the congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Las Vegas. Mildred Sperry, Gretchen Bush, and Ainida Baker each remembered her as a “nicely dressed, quiet lady” who attended church by herself.
Dr. Christy was buried at the Masonic Cemetery in Las Vegas in 1968. There is no headstone on her plot in section R, row 8. Prominent doctors from Las Vegas to Albuquerque attended her funeral. Additional honors bestowed upon her in her lifetime included the Distinguished Service Award from the New Mexico Osteopathic Association in 1956. Before her death, according to her obituary, Governor David Cargo had appointed her to The Health Fact Finding Commission.
The American Osteopathic Association recognizes Dr. Christy as the first black Osteopath in the United States. Duke University calls Dr. Christy the first black osteopath in the world.
Additional Information and Clarification
101 Men and Women of New Mexico by Betty Woods; Noteworthy Black Women of New Mexico by W. Cox and B.J. Richardson; Internet sources- “Minorities in Medicine” The DO 2009,BlackNews.com “Black History Month: The State of Black Health”; Believe in NM Girls: Celebrate Women’s History Month”
Motto, Sytha. More than Conquerors: Makers of History, 1528–1978. Albuquerque, N.Mex.: Adobe Press, 1980.
Poldervaart, Arie. “The New Mexico Law Library—A History,” New Mexico Historical Review (January 1946): 47–59.
Robolledo, Tey Diana eds. Nuestras Mujeras: Hispanas of New Mexico: Their Images and Their Lives, 1582–1992. Albuquerque, N.Mex.: El Norte Publications/Academia, 1992.