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Black History Month: A Medical Perspective: Chronology of Achievements

Black History Month: A Medical Perspective - Exhibited February-March 1999 and February-March 2006

Chronology of Achievements of African Americans in Medicine

1721

Onesimus, an enslaved African, describes to Cotton Mather the African method of inoculation against smallpox. The technique, later used to protect American Revolutionary War soldiers, is perfected in the 1790's by British doctor Edward Jenner's use of a less virulent organism.

1783

Dr. James Durham, born into slavery in 1762, buys his freedom and begins his own medical practice in New Orleans, becoming the first African-American doctor in the United States. As a youngster, he was owned by a number of doctors, who taught him how to read and write, mix medicines, and serve and work with patients. Durham had a flourishing medical practice in New Orleans until 1801 when the city restricted his practice because he did not have a formal medical degree.

1788

Dr. James Durham is invited to Philadelphia to meet Dr. Benjamin Rush, who wanted to investigate Durham's reported success in treating patients with diphtheria. Dr. Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and one of America's foremost physicians, was so impressed that he personally read Durham's paper on diphtheria before the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Durham returned to New Orleans in 1789, where he saved more yellow fever victims than any other physician (During an epidemic that killed thousands, he lost 11 of 64 patients).

1837

Dr. James McCune Smith graduates from the University of Glasgow, becoming the first African American to earn a medical degree.

1852

Augusta, GA: The Jackson Street Hospital is established as the first institution of record solely for the care of colored patients. The founders were a group of charitable minded whites led by Dr. Henry Fraser Campbell, University of Georgia School of Medicine. There was no colored staff in this three story structure, which housed fifty beds, operating quarters, and a lecture hall.

1862

Freedmen's Hospital is established in Washington, D.C., and is the only federally-funded health care facility for Negroes in the nation.

Born a slave in Georgia in 1848, Susie Baker (who later became known as Susie King Taylor) is the first African American U.S. Army nurse during the Civil War. King served in a newly formed regiment of black soldiers organized at Port Royal Island off the South Carolina coast by Major General David Hunter, commander of the Union's Department of the South. After the war, she helped to organize a branch of the Women's Relief Corps

1864

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first Negro female to earn a medical degree, graduates from New England Female Medical College, Boston.

1867

Robert Tanner Freeman is one of the first six graduates in dental medicine from Harvard University, thus becoming the first African American to receive an education in dentistry and a dental degree from an American medical school. (Freeman was born in 1847 to slave parents in North Carolina.)

1868

Washington, DC: Howard University School of Medicine, established for the purpose of educating Negro doctors, opens to both Negro and White students, including women.

1878

Dr. James Francis Shober earns his M.D. from Howard University School of Medicine, Washington, D.C. and later becomes the first known Negro physician with a medical degree to practice in North Carolina.

1879

Mary Eliza Mahoney becomes the first African-American professional nurse, graduating from the New England Hospital for Women and Children (Now Dimock Community Health Center), Boston.

1881

Atlanta, GA: The first school of record for Negro student nurses is established at Spelman College.

1891

Chicago, IL: Dr. Daniel Hale Williams establishes the Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses, the first Black-owned and first interracial hospital in the United States. Dr. Austin Maurice Curtis, Sr. (a Raleigh, North Carolina native) becomes the hospital's first intern.

1893

Chicago, IL: At Provident Hospital, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performs the first successful operation on a human heart. (The patient, a victim of a chest stab wound, survived and lived a normal life for twenty years after the operation.)

1895

Atlanta, GA: The National Medical Association is founded, since Negroes are barred from other established medical groups. 

Philadelphia, PA: Dr. Nathan Francis Mossell founds the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School for Nurses.

1896

Saint Agnes Hospital established in Raleigh, North Carolina on the grounds of St. Augustine's College. Despite obvious handicaps, it was referred to in 1922 as the "only well equipped hospital for Negroes between Washington and New Orleans, serving not only North Carolina, but adjacent Virginia and South Carolina." The hospital closed in April 1961 after nearly 65 years of service. Source: Journal of the National Medical Association, 53(5):439-446; Sept. 1961.

Nashville, TN: Dr. John Henry Jordan, a son of slaves, graduates from Meharry Medical College, defying his father and the ways of the Deep South. He was the first black doctor in Coweta County, Georgia, and built the first black hospital in the county.

1900

Washington, DC: The Washington Society of Colored Dentists, the first organization of black dentists, is founded.

1901

Durham, NC: Dr. Aaron McDuffie Moore convinces Washington Duke to donate money for the construction of Lincoln Hospital.

1904

Alois Alzheimer selects five foreign visiting students at the Royal Psychiatric Hospital, University of Munich, as his graduate research assistants, including African American Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller. After leaving Germany in 1906, Fuller continued his research on degenerative disorders of the brain and was a widely published pioneer in Alzheimer's disease research. At the time of his death in 1953, the only acknowledgment of his Fuller's work was an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree awarded in 1943 by his alma mater, Livingstone College, Salisbury, NC.

1908

The National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) is established. (NACGN was dissolved in 1951, when its members voted to merge with the American Nurses Association.)

1912

Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller, recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as the country's first black psychiatrist, publishes the first comprehensive clinical review of all Alzheimer's cases that have been reported up to this time. He was the first to translate into English much of Alois Alzheimer's work on the disease that bears his name.

1915

The NAACP awards Dr. Ernest E. Just the first Springarn Medal for his pioneering research on fertilization and cell division.

1917

Camp Upton, NY: Dr. Louis T. Wright, a pioneer in clinical antibiotic research, develops a better technique (intradermal injection) for vaccinating soldiers against smallpox.

1921

Dr. Meta L. Christy, a graduate of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, is the world's first African-American osteopathic physician.

1927

Boston, MA: Dr. William Augustus Hinton develops the Hinton Test for diagnosing syphilis. (He later develops an improved version, the Hinton-Davies Test, in 1931.)

1936

Dr. William Augustus Hinton's book, Syphilis and Its Treatment, is the first medical textbook written by an African American to be published.

1938

Sara Delaney's article entitled "Bibliotherapy in a Hospital" is published in the February issue of Opportunity magazine. (Delaney, chief librarian at the U.S. Veteran's Administration Hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama, was a pioneer in the use of selected reading to aid in the treatment of patients.)

1940

Dr. Charles R. Drew presents his thesis, "Banked Blood," at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. The thesis covers two years of blood research, including the discovery that plasma could replace whole blood transfusions.

1944

A group of African-American medics land on Utah Beach/Normandy on D-Day + 4, as part of a nine-person, all Black team of medics, which included two officers. Serving with the 687th and the 530th Medical Detachments, they spent most of the rest of the European campaign attached to the 3rd Army while participating in many of its major actions.

1950

Dr. Helen O. Dickens becomes the first African-American woman admitted to the American College of Surgeons.

1951

African American Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer and treated at Johns Hopkins University, where a doctor took cells from her cervix without her knowledge. These cells were found to be unique in that they could be kept alive and would also grow indefinitely. For the past 60 years, Lacks' cells, now known as HeLa cells (in Lacks' honor), have been cultured and used in experiments ranging from determining the long-term effects of radiation to testing the live polio vaccine. Read more

1954

Dr. Peter Murray Marshall is installed as the President of the New York County Medical Society, becoming the first African American to lead a unit of the American Medical Association.

1964

Dr. Geraldine Pittman Woods becomes the first African-American woman appointed to the National Advisory General Medical Services Council. In this position, she addressed the need to improve science education and research opportunities at minority institutions.

1967

Dr. Jane C. Wright, pioneer in chemotherapy research and daughter of Dr. Louis T. Wright (see "1917"), is appointed an Associate Dean and Professor of Surgery at New York Medical College. At the time, this was the highest post ever attained by an African-American woman in medical administration.

1969

Alfred Day Hershey, PhD, geneticist, becomes the first African American to share a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He received the award for his research on the replication and genetic structure of viruses. Please note: Although Alfred Day Hershey appears in African American Firsts in Science and Technology (1999), there is controversy regarding his ethnicity, as there is no reference to him being African American in his New York Times Obiturary.

1975

Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, is the only black medical school founded in the United States during the 20th century. Since its establishment, the school has sent more than 700 doctors, mostly black, to provide health care in impoverished parts of the country, especially to poorer black communities where access to medical care has traditionally been in short supply. Dr. Louis Sullivan, who became the first dean and president of Morehouse School of Medicine, is also noted as the first African-American male to head the Dept. of Health & Human Services.

1978

Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall becomes the first African-American President of the American Cancer Society.

1987

Baltimore, MD: Dr. Ben Carson, neurosurgeon, leads a seventy-member surgical team at Johns Hopkins Hospital in separating Siamese twins joined at the cranium.

1990

Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston becomes the first female and first African American to direct a public health service bureau (the Bureau of Primary Health Care in the United States Department of Health and Human Services). Her 1986 study of sickle-cell disease led to a nationwide screening program to test newborns for immediate treatment.

1991

Dr. Vivian Pinn is the first female and first African-American woman Director of the Office of Research on Women's Health, National Institutes of Health, which oversees research on women and insures that they are represented in broad clinical trials.

1992

Dr. Mae C. Jemison, the first Black female astronaut in NASA history, becomes the first Black woman in space, as part of SPACELAB J, a successful joint U.S. and Japanese science mission. A graduate of Cornell University Medical School, Jemison served in the Peace Corps as its area medical officer from 1983 to 1985 in the West African countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia.

1993

Dr. Edward S. Cooper is the first African American elected as National President of the American Heart Association.
 
Dr. Joycelyn Elders 
is the first African American to be appointed as U.S. Surgeon General. Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee is the first African-American woman to be appointed Dean of a U.S. medical school (Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine).

1995

Dr. Helene Doris Gayle is the first female and first African-American Director of the National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

1996

Dr. Ernest E. Just is recognized for his contributions to the biological sciences with a commerative U.S. Postal Service stamp.

1997

Dr. Donna Christian-Christensen is the first woman physician and first African-American woman physician in the U.S. Congress.

Des Moines, IA: Drs. Paula Mahone and Karen Drake are members of a team of forty specialists involved in the delivery of the McCaughey septuplets at Iowa Methodist Medical Center.

1998

Dr. David Satcher is sworn in as both the Assistant Secretary for Health and U.S. Surgeon General.

2000

Dr. Sharon Henry is the first African-American woman to be elected into membership as a fellow in the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma. 

The nation's largest group of African-American physicians, the National Medical Association(NMA), charge that many managed care plans effectively discriminate against them, forcing some of their physicians to cease practicing medicine or relocate, and discouraging others from establishing practices in certain areas. Although NMA members conceded that they lacked comprehensive national data to buttress their claims, the doctors claimed to have plenty of anecdotal accounts of instances where they had been left out.

2002

Dr. Roselyn Payne Epps is the first African-American woman to serve as President of the American Medical Women's Association.

2011

The National Library of Medicine, in collaboration with the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University, releases The Charles R. Drew Papers on the Library's Profiles in Science Website.

William G. Coleman, Jr., PhD, is appointed as NIH's National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities first permanent Scientific Director and the first African-American Scientific Director in the history of the NIH Intramural Research Program. Dr. Coleman, a microbiologist, has had a long career as a scientist in the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Intramural Research Program. 
http://www.nih.gov/news/health/jan2011/nimhd-14.htm

2016

Carla D. Hayden, longtime chief executive of the Enoch Pratt Free Library system in Baltimore and a former president of the American Library Association, is sworn in as the 14th Librarian of Congress. Hayden, who was nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, is the first woman and the first African-American to serve in this role. The collections of the Library of Congress include books, pamphlets, and periodicals in a vast number of languages and classifications including medicine.