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Lt. Col. Joseph Ward’s Mark on History

On Saturday August 17th, 2019, a public dedication ceremony was held for an Indiana state historical marker commemorating African American physician, hospital administrator, and Hoosier veteran Lt. Col. Joseph Ward.

Joseph Henry Ward was born on August 26, 1872, in North Carolina, but his family later moved to Indianapolis. By 1897, he had graduated from the Physio-Medical School of Indiana and established one of the first hospitals for African Americans, Ward’s Sanitarium and Nurses’ Training School on Indiana Avenue around 1907. He enlisted for military service during World War I on August 10, 1917, and served with the 92nd Division medical corps in France. The 92nd Division was one of two segregated units of the Army during the Great War, and Dr. Ward became one of only two African American officers in the medical corps to attain the rank of Major during the war. He was honorably discharged from active service on May 29, 1919, and continued in the reserves until 1934.

In 1924, Dr. Ward became the first African American commander of the segregated Veterans Hospital No. 91 at Tuskegee, Alabama. With his appointment, the hospital’s staff was composed entirely of Black personnel. Veterans Hospital No. 91 treated Southern Black veterans, many suffering from what is now referred to as PTSD following WWI service. In 1934, he left the Army at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and returned to his practice in Indianapolis.

The marker is located on the northwest corner of West 21st Street at North Boulevard Place in Indianapolis. It was at that location that, after several moves on Indiana Avenue, Ward’s Sanitarium found a lasting location until it ceased operation in the late 1940s or early 1950s.