Altha Stewart (1952- )

Dr. Altha Jeanne Stewart
Courtesy University of Tennessee Health Science Center

Altha Jeanne Stewart is a psychiatrist who served as the first African American President of the American Psychiatric Association. Stewart was born on October 28, 1952, on the south side of Memphis, Tennessee. Her mother was a librarian and her father was a civil service worker at the US Army depot in the city. Stewart attended Carver high School and graduated from Sacred Heart High School for Girls in 1969. She was in the first class of women admitted to Christian Brothers University, and graduated with her BA in biology in 1973 before earning her MD from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in 1978.

Stewart completed her residency in Psychiatry at Temple University School of Medicine, and following her fellowship, she relocated to the city of Philadelphia where she served as the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health’s medical director (1983-1991). She then moved to New York when she was appointed to the rank of senior deputy commissioner for the New York State Office of Mental Health & Alcoholism (1992-1998).

Stewart lived in Detroit briefly while managing the Detroit-Wayne Community Mental Health Agency as executive director (1992-2002) before returning to Memphis in 2003, where she secured a grant to work with at-risk youth of Shelby County, and taught psychiatry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

In 2011, Stewart was the executive director of the Just Care Family Network, servicing Memphis and Shelby county families in need of mental health services. She left the public sector when she became faculty at the University of Tennessee as an associate professor of psychiatry, and was recruited to establish and direct the Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth. Her efforts were awarded in 2017 with the James G. Hughes Community Advocate Award from the Memphis Child Advocacy Center, and a Memphis Legend award from the state.

Stewart became the first African American to lead the American Psychiatric Association (APA), founded in 1844, when she was appointed to the position in 2018. She was also named the senior associate dean for Community Health Engagement in the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in 2019. Stewart has served on the board of the Jed Foundation, University of Tennessee, and the Christians Brothers Board of Trustees. She has received numerous awards for her work, including the Public citizens Award from the National Association of Social Workers, and the Solomon Carter Fuller Award from the APA in 2021. She currently resides in Memphis.