Joyce Yerwood, physician, social justice advocate, and community organizer, was born Ursula Joyce Yerwood on January 5, 1909, in Victoria, Texas. She was the second daughter of Melissa (Brown) Yerwood and physician Charles Yerwood. Her mother died of tuberculosis in 1910. Her father was one of the few African American doctors in Texas at the time. He remarried twice, first to Nannie Brown, his first wife’s sister, then to Ada Marie DeBlanc. Yerwood and her older sister followed in their father’s career path despite his desire for them to study art and music. They attended the Eliza Dee Industrial Home for Girls finishing school for African American girls at Samuel Huston College in Austin. Yerwood graduated from Samuel Huston College (later Huston-Tillotson University) in Austin, Texas, in 1928 and earned her medical degree from her father’s alma mater, Meharry Medical College, in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1933. She completed her medical internship in Kansas City, Kansas, and medical residency in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She married James W. Bluford in July 1935 but divorced after three months. Her sister, Connie Yerwood Conner, also attended Meharry Medical College and was the first black doctor named to the Texas Public Health Service (now the Texas Department of Health).
Yerwood married Joseph Lucien Carwin, Jr., a fellow physician, on November 25, 1935, in a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas. She then moved to Stamford in Fairfield County, Connecticut, where Carwin had already established a medical practice. They couple initially while as students at Meharry Medical College. Carwin, who later died in 1964, was the first African American elected to lead the Fairfield County Medical Association. After spending a short time as a housewife, Yerwood opened her own medical practice in 1937 in Port Chester, New York, where she provided medical care for underserved women and children. She continued to use her maiden name professionally. In 1942 she gave birth to a son, Joseph Lucien Carwin, III, in New York. She moved her practice to Stamford, Connecticut, in 1955 and became the first African American woman practitioner in Fairfield County.
Yerwood also served her community as a civic leader by promoting educational and cultural opportunities for African American youth. During her first year in Stamford, she made her home a gathering place for young African Americans to provide them a safe place to socialize off the streets. With the art and music education her father had insisted on, she organized a choral group for young people and produced an operetta as a fundraiser for a local church in 1937. She, then, founded the Little Negro Theater, a performing arts group for African American youth, in 1939. She also raised funds for the group’s permanent home and eventually purchased a storefront on West Main Street. In 1943 the location became the Stamford Negro Community Center (often called the West Main Street Community Center), the town’s first Black community center. In 1975, when the center moved to its Fairfield Avenue location, it was renamed the Yerwood Center in her honor. Beset with financial difficulties, the center closed in 2014, but reopened in 2015 when the Boys and Girls Club of Stamford moved its after school programs to the center.
As a passionate community organizer, Yerwood served the Stamford area through several organizations. She was chairman of the board of trustees of Union Baptist Church and was a member of Eastern Star; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority; the Girl Friends, Inc.; the Soroptimists Club; the Stamford Medical Society; the National Medical Association; the Stamford Hospital Corporation; and the World Medical Association. Yerwood and her husband also helped found the Greenwich Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). For her lifetime of community service, she received the Stamford Mayor’s Award, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Heritage Award, and the Hannah G. Soloman Award.
Yerwood practiced medicine in Stamford until the early 1980s. Even after her retirement, she continued to serve the community as medical director of the Methadone Clinic of Stamford’s Liberation Program and as a supporter of the Yerwood Center. She died at home in Greenwich, Connecticut, on October 2, 1987. Her funeral service was held at Union Baptist Church in Stamford, and she was buried at Fairfield Memorial Park cemetery in Stamford. Yerwood was inducted in the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame in 2016.