Dr. Dorothy B. Ferebee, 83, a retired member of the medical faculty of Howard University who was widely noted in Washington and elsewhere in the country for her efforts in behalf of blacks, women and disadvantaged persons, died at Georgetown University Hospital on Sunday of congestive heart failure.
She was a founder of the Southeast Community House here, a founder of The Women's Institute and a president of the National Council of Negro Women, having succeeded Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of that organization. She became an instructor in obstertics at the Howard University Medical School in the late 1920s and later served for many years as medical director of the Howard University Health Service. She was director of university health activities at the time of her retirement in 1968. d
For seven summers in the depression-ridden 1930s, Dr. Ferebee helped run a health project in rural Mississippi. She was a chairman of the D.C. Commission on the Status of Women and was appointed to the U.S. Food for Peace Council by President Kennedy. She traveled widely throughout Latin America, Europe and Africa as a representative of the State Department and of the National Girl Scouts of U.S.A.
In her own life, she overcame formidable barriers against blacks and women and she was not unmindful of what she had accomplished.
"In our family, there was never a question of couldn't," she said in an interview two years ago. "Before me there were eight lawyers -- all I heard at the table was 'your honor, I object,' or 'answer the question, yes or no.' Yet all my life I wanted to be a doctor.
"I would nurse and rub the birds that fell out of trees, the dog that lost a fight. My grandmother would say, 'Do you need water, dolly?' and then say to my mother, 'She's going to make a fine doctor.' They weren't professional women but they gave me marvelous encouragement."
She observed that it is easier now for a woman or a black to become a professional.
Dr. Ferebee was born in Norfolk. She grew up in Boston and graduated from Simmons College there. She earned her medical degree at Tufts University in 1924.
The following year, she moved to Washington to begin her internship at the old Freedmen's Hospital, now Howard University Hospital. She once recalled that although she had been among the top five graduates of her class at medical school all of her applications to other hospitals were refused. She became an instructor in obsterics at Howard when her training was finished and she remained at the school for the next 40 years.
Her interest in what became the Southeast Neighborhood House began while she was still completing her internship. She had attended the famous Peabody Settlement House in Boston while she was growing up. In Washington, she came across a 9-year-old boy named Georgie. Georgie was babysitting for his 3-year-old brother while his mother was working as a domestic. There being nothing in the icebox at home, Georgie took a bottle of milk from the porch of a neighbor and was arrested.
"I went down and got him and paid for the milk and right then decided we needed a place for black children of working mothers," Dr. Ferebee recalled.
So she began collecting donations and then appealed to the board of Friendship House, then an all-white organization, for a location.
"I explained to them the need and they said I was lecturing," Dr. Ferebee recalled. "I said no, I am just telling you the facts. Finally a woman said yes, we will help -- so did the old Community Chest -- and we opened Southeast Neighborhood House at 301 G St. SE."
Last May, the D.C. City Council passed a resolution recognizing Dr. Ferebee's contributions over the years.
Among the furnishings in Dr. Ferebee's house in Washington are a Persian rug and some chairs that belonged to her great-grandparents, who had been slaves in Virginia and who took those items to Boston in 1848. They had been released by their former master and they made the journey mostly at night. bDr. Ferebee said the trip had been made that way "for safety," and she was proud of what her forebears had done.
"When I get tired, I just come in here and look at my great-grandmother's furniture," she once said. "I just look."
The thought of it seemed to give her strength.
Dr. Ferebee's marriage ended in divorce.
Survivors include a son, Dr. Charles T. Ferebee, a dentist who lives in Chevy Chase, and four grandchildren.