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Black History Month: A Medical Perspective: Education

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


Medical schools were closed to Blacks in the South and to a lesser degree in the North. Because of the color line in medicine, the first African-American physicians received their medical degrees abroad.  A few older medical schools in the East admitted some blacks; namely, Harvard, Yale, and Pennsylvania.  In the Midwest, Indiana, Northwestern, and Michigan accepted some African-American medical students.


First African-Amercan medical student graduated from a Northern medical school -- David J. Peck (Rush Medical School, Chicago).


Bowdoin Medical School in Maine awarded medical degrees to John V. De Grasse and Thomas J. White.


Berkshire Medical School in Massachusetts awarded two medical degrees to African Americans.


By 1860, at least nine Northern medical schools admitted blacks: Bowdoin in Maine, the Medical School of the University of New York, Caselton Medical School in Vermont, Berkshire Medical School in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Rush Medical School in Chicago, the Eclectic Medical School of Philadelphia, the Homeopathic College of Cleveland, the American Medical College, and the Medical School of Harvard University.


Seven medical schools for blacks were established between 1868 and 1904. In 1895, there were 385 African-American doctors, only 7 percent from white medical schools. In 1905, there were 1,465 African-American doctors, only 14.5 percent from white medical schools. Almost 2,400 physicians were graduated from Howard and Meharry medical schools from 1890 to the end of WWI.

Medical Schools For Blacks Established 1868 to 1904

Howard University Medical School, est. 1868
Washington, DC

Meharry Medical College, est. 1876
Nashville, TN

Leonard Medical School (Shaw University), 1882-1914
Raleigh, NC

New Orleans University Medical College, 1887-1911
New Orleans, LA
(Renamed Flint Medical College)

Knoxville College Medical Department, 1895-1900
Knoxville, TN
(Became Knoxville Medical College in 1900 and closed in 1910)

Chattanooga National Medical College, 1902-1908
Chattanooga, TN

University of West Tennessee College of Physicians and Surgeons, 1904-1923
Memphis, TN

By 1923, only Howard University Medical School and Meharry Medical School remained.

The Flexner Report on Medical Education

Referred to as the Flexner Report on Medical Education, Abraham Flexner's Medical Education in the United States and Canada: A Report to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (1910) was the catalyst for the closing of many black medical schools.

Although black physicians and nurses fought to overcome the veritable revolution in medicine, new research centers, modern equipment, diagnostic inventions, therapeutic discoveries, and a proliferation of medical literature were awesome hurdles to overcome.

The Report consisted of high professional requirements that sounded the end of many black medical schools. By 1914, four of six schools had disappeared. The largest one, Leonard Medical School, closed in 1915. It was followed eight years later by the Medical Department of the University of West Tennessee, leaving only Howard and Meharry.

Historically Black Medical Schools

Howard University Medical School (est. 1868)

Established for the purpose of educating black doctors, Howard opened in 1868 to both black and white students, including women. Its first faculty consisted of four whites and one black, Dr. Alexander T. Augusta.

Dr. Augusta, a physician, had been in charge of Toronto City Hospital.  He also was the first African American placed in charge of Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, DC, he was only permitted to be a "demonstrator of anatomy."

Howard University School of Medicine (in Washington DC) became one of the few leading medical schools dedicated to the training of black physicians.

Meharry Medical College (est. 1876)

Meharry Medical College opened in 1876 in Nashville, Tennessee with less than a dozen students, mostly from the south. It was originally part of Central Tennessee College.

Eventually five white men, the Meharry brothers, who had been befriended earlier in their lives by some blacks, furnished the resources for a four-story building.

From 1877 to 1890, Meharry graduated 102 students.

Leonard Medical School (Shaw University) (est. 1882)

Leonard Medical School of Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina was established in 1882 in order to supplement the work of Howard and Meharry. Of the half-dozen medical schools established between 1882 and 1888, Leonard was the most successful.

The school was supported by the Baptist Mission Society for Negroes. The state donated the site for the medical building, a hospital, dispensary and dormitory. Its first graduating class had six students. Leonard's faculty consisted of leading "white" physicians of Raleigh.

The school closed in 1915, because it was unable to meet the rising medical standards set forth in the Flexner Report on Medical Education, published in 1910.

Medical Societies

American Medical Association (AMA)
Established as a permanent national medical society, Philadelphia, May 5, 1847.
Originally exclusive to whites, black doctors who sought membership were repeatedly denied admission. Read about Race and the AMA: A Chronology compiled by the AMA Ethics Standards Group.

Medical Society of the District of Columbia
Organized in 1817 and chartered in 1819. The doors stayed closed to blacks.

Medico-Chirurgical Society
The first Negro medical society. Founded in 1884 and chartered more than ten years later in 1895, when it become apparent that discrimination in medicine would not end.

National Medical Association
Established in 1895, this is the nation’s oldest and largest organization representing African-American physicians and health professionals in the US. In an era of US history when the majority of African Americans were disenfranchised due to racially exclusive Jim Crow laws and injustices of a dual medical care system, black doctors and health professionals found it necessary to establish their own medical societies and hospitals.

National Medical Society of the District of Columbia
Professional body established in 1870 as a result of discrimination. Predominantly consisting of African Americans, many black physicians refused to join this "mixed" society.

North Carolina Medical Society
Predominantly white organization chartered in 1849. As a concession to integration, the Society allowed black physicians "scientific" but not "social" membership in 1961.

Old North State Medical Society
North Carolina's Negro medical society. Chartered in 1887 under the name North Carolina Medical Pharmaceutical and Dental Association. Adopted the current name in 1948.

By 1956, the medical societies of every southern state had agreed to admit blacks, with the exception of Louisiana and North Carolina.