Alabama Women's Hall of Fame

Ruth Robertson Berrey (1906-1973)

Ruth Robertson Berrey

Ruth Robertson's father was a distinguished physician and a great-aunt had been a missionary to China. At the age of ten, young Ruth decided to combine both careers, and at 14 she left Clayton, Alabama for Judson College in Marion. Transferring the following year to the University of Alabama, she became the second woman to graduate from the two-year Alabama Medical College. There she met Ivan Berrey, a young doctor and professor. After receiving her M.D. at age 22 from Tulane University, she and Ivan were married in the home of Dr. Louis Bristow, a minister and the head of the New Orleans Baptist Hospital.

Ivan completed his residency at the university of Chicago and Ruth interned at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. Then a group of doctors in Kansas invited Ivan to join their clinic. When the two Berreys arrived, the clinic and town would have no part in accepting a woman doctor. The young doctors packed their bags and moved to Birmingham. In 1929, Dr. Ruth Berrey entered the practice of pediatrics, across the hall from her husband's office.

Over the years she earned positions as medical supervisor under the National Youth Administration; consultant to the Jefferson County Board of Health; assistant professor at Howard College (now Samford University); and associate professor at the University of Alabama.

In 1956, Dr. Ivan Berrey died. Dr. Ruth Berrey then began her various tours of duty as a medical missionary to Nigeria, where she saw 200 children daily five days a week. In both West Africa and the United States, she became known for her outstanding achievements in treatment of children's diseases and nutrition. She particularly fostered the use of a nutritious bean to supply protein in a land where the tse tse fly prevents the raising of cattle for beef. Following a heart attack that forced her to return to the States, Dr. Berrey served as county health officer in Barbour, Macon, and Bullock counties until her death.

Dr. Berrey was a diplomat of the American Board of Pediatrics, a fellow member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a member of Chi Omega Sorority and Zonta. During her lifetime she was president of the Children's Hospital in Birmingham, president of the Alabama Pediatric Society, and recipient of the Outstanding Alumnae Award at Judson College. She was listed in the Who's Who of American Women and Who's Who in Alabama.


“Barbour Health Officer Dr. Ruth Berrey Dies.” Birmingham News, 24 July 1973.

Bristow, Gwen. “Medical Missionary to Nigeria—Tulane Graduate of 1928.” New Orleans Register,. 2 June 1973.

“Dr. Ruth Berrey, County Health Officer Succumbs Monday Night.” Clayton (Alabama) Record, 26 July 1973.

Fitz, Mark. “Thousands Starving in Emerald Forests.” Montgomery Advertiser, 8 August 1993, 1A.

“Lady Doctor Returns to Nigeria.” Montgomery Advertiser-Journal, 10 September 1972.

“Medical Missionary Dies of Heart Attack.” Alabama Journal, 24 July 1973.

Weaver, Bill and James Thompson. “Women in Medicine and the Issue of Late Nineteenth Century.” Alabama Historical Quarterly 43 (Winter 1981): 292-299.

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Alabama Women's Hall of Fame