The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary and the First Black Eye Doctor in America

The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary ca. 1904, courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

Village Preservation wrote to the Landmarks Preservation Commission with yet another clear reason to landmark the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary at Second Avenue and 13th StreetThe historic building and institution, the future of which is in jeopardy, is where the very first Black opthamologist in America, Dr. David Kearny McDonogh, who was also the first enslaved person in America to earn a college degree, first practiced in the mid-19th century. And this was no coincidence; it was a reflection of the profound commitment to equality of Dr. John Kearny Rodgers, the co-founder of the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary (McDonogh took Rodgers’ middle name as his own to honor him after his passing in 1851). McDonogh’s incredible story of fortitude and determination in the face of incredible adversity is inspiring, and yet another reason the important history connected to this building and institution should be preserved.

Village Preservation has been working with patients, staff, doctors, and impacted residents on the campaign to Save the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, leading the effort to protect the historic building via landmark designation that Mt. Sinai is now seeking to sellIn spite of its purported “equity framework,” the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has never designated a building based upon its significance to the history of people with disabilities, and has designated too few sites based upon significance to African American history. Landmarking and protecting the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary would begin to help in righting both those wrongs.


March 7, 2023