Halle Tanner was born 1864, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the oldest daughter to Benjamin Tanner and Elizabeth Tanner. The Tanners was an educated black family living in Pennsylvania and her father was a prominent minister at the African Methodist Church. As an young girl Halle, was well educated and became familiar with the work of prominent Black American intellectuals. She began working with her father on The Christian Recorder, a newspaper of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, where Benjamin ministered.
In 1886, at the age 22 Halle married Charles Dillon, and the couple had a child. Two years later at the age 24 years old Halle became a widow when her husband died from an known cause. Halle moved back home with her family with her child. After the death of her husband Halle decided to enter medical school. After three years of study at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, where she excelled, and earned her M.D. in 1891, at the age 27, graduating with honors.
The same year of her graduation, Prominent Black American educator Booker Taliaferro Washington (April 5, 1856 – November 14, 1915), founder of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama had written a letter to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in request for an nomination for a teaching position he had been struggling to fill for four years. Dr. Dillon stepped up and accepted Washington offer of $600 a month, including lodging and meals. Dr. Dillon arrived at Tuskegee Institute in August 1891, to began service.
Before Dr. Dillon could began work she face an obstacle, she had to pass the Alabama State Medical Examination. Booker T. Washington helped her prepare for her exam by asking Cornelius Nathaniel Dorsette the first Black American licensed physician in the city to help her prepare. The fact that Dr. Dillon was sitting for the examination caused a public stir in Montgomery the states capitol. Dr. Dillon spent ten days taking the exam, addressing a different area of medicine each day. Her examiners included the directors and leading figures of most of the state’s major medical institutions. Dillon impressed them with her responses and she passed the test.
Dr. Dillon was the first woman and Black American woman to practice medicine in the state of Alabama.
During her brief tenure at Tuskegee, she was responsible for the health care of the school’s 450 students and 30 faculty and staff. She also established a training school for nurses and founded the Lafayette Dispensary to serve the health care needs of local residents, often mixing medicines herself for their use. She also taught two classes each day.
In 1894, at the age 30 while working at Tuskegee University Dr. Dillon married the Reverend John Quincy Johnson an theologian and mathematic professor who also worked at Tuskegee University. The newlyweds left Tuskegee and moved first to Columbia, South Carolina, where Reverend Johnson became president of Allen University, a private school for black students. They later moved from Hartford, Connecticut and to Atlanta, Georgia, and then to Princeton, New Jersey, as Reverend Johnson pursued undergraduate and graduate degrees in theology. Finally, in 1900, the couple settled in Nashville, Tennessee with their three children where Reverend Johnson became the pastor of Saint Paul A.M.E. Church. Dr. Halle Tanner Dillon Johnson died on April 26, 1901, at the age 37, in Nashville from complications during childbirth.