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Black History Month: A Medical Perspective: People

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

Notable African Americans in Medicine

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams

Dr. Williams performed the first successful open heart surgery in 1893 and founded Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses (the first black-owned hospital in America) in 1891. From 1893-1898, he was Surgeon-in-Chief, Freedmen's Hospital, Washington, DC. He also founded the National Medical Association in 1895 (African Americans were denied membership in the American Medical Association). As a charter member of the American College of Surgeons in 1913, he was the first and only African American member for many years.

Dr. William Augustus Hinton

First African American physician to publish a textbook - Syphilis and Its Treatment, 1936. He is known internationally for the development of a flocculation method for the detection of syphilis called the "Hinton Test." Dr. Hinton is also the first African American to hold a professorship at Harvard University. He attended the University of Kansas from 1900-1902 and then transferred to Harvard, graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1912. From 1921-1946, he taught bacteriology and immunology at Harvard before being promoted to clinical professor in 1949.

Dr. Charles Richard Drew

Charles Drew was a pioneer researcher in blood plasma for transfusion and in the development of blood banks. He was the first Director, American Red Cross Blood Bank; Professor, Howard University; and Chief Surgeon, Freedmen's Hospital. The U.S. Postal Service issued a Commemorative Stamp with his portrait in 1981. Drew received his M.D. and Master of Surgery (C.M.) degree from McGill University in 1933. On April 1, 1950, Drew died after an auto accident in rural Alamance County, North Carolina.

Dr. George Cleveland Hall
  • Pioneer in surgery and Chairman of the Medical Advisory Board at Provident Hospital; Appointed Chief of Staff at Hospital in 1926
  • Leading African American physician in Chicago, 1900-1930
  • Instrumental in the establishment of infirmaries throughout the south
  • Organized the first postgraduate course at Provident Hospital
  • Founded Cook County Physicians' Association of Chicago
  • Vice President of National Urban League and instrumental in getting it started in Chicago
  • Active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
  • Helped to find interest in financial support of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History

Dr. Austin Maurice Curtis, Sr.
  • Raleigh, North Carolina native
  • Prominent turn of the century physician and protege of Dr. Daniel Hale Williams
  • Professor of Surgery at Howard University for 25 years
  • Chief Surgeon, Freedmen's Hospital, 1898-1938
  • First intern, Provident Hospital, Chicago, 1891
  • First African American surgeon on staff of Cook County Hospital (a non-segregated hospital), 1896

Dr. Nathan Francis Mossell
  • Founded Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School for Nurses, Philadelphia, 1895
  • First African American to graduate from University of Pennsylvania Medical School, 1882
  • First African American admitted to the Philadelphia Medical Society
  • Active in the fight for racial equality
  • Uncle to Paul Robeson, famous actor and millitant champion of "Negro" rights

Mary Eliza Mahoney

First Black professional nurse in the United States (1879). Mary's parents moved from North Carolina to Boston, where she was born on April 16, 1845. In Boston, black children were not permitted to attend schools with Whites until 1855, and even in New England, domestic service was the only way for a Negro woman to make a living. Interested in a nursing career from the age of eighteen, Mary was a "nurse" for several prominent white families prior to entering formal nurse training. On March 23, 1878, she was the "first coloured girl admitted" (Medical and Nursing Record Book, 1878) to the nurse training program at the New England Hospital for Women and Children; she graduated sixteen months later at the age of thirty-four. (Note: Mahoney's biographer, Helen Miller, was Associate Professor of Nursing Research at North Carolina Central University.)

Dr. James McCune Smith

First African American to earn a medical degree, 1837 (University of Glasgow). African Americans were denied admission to U.S. medical schools at the time. First black to operate a pharmacy in the United States.

Dr. James Francis Shober

First known African American physician with a medical degree to practice in North Carolina. He was born in Winston Salem, August 23, 1853; graduate of Lincoln University, Oxford, Pa., 1875; M.D. from Howard University School of Medicine, 1878. Married Anna Maria Taylor, 1881; Practiced medicine in Wilmington, NC until his death, January 6, 1889

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Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler

First African American female to earn a medical degree, 1864 (New England Female Medical College, Boston). Note: Controversial with Rebecca J. Cole, (1846-1922) who received a medical degree from Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, 1867. (Photo unavailable)

Dr. Charles DeWitt Watts (1917-2004)

Dr. Watts spent more than 50 years advocating for civil and human rights and for the quality of medical care for all residents of Durham, especially the poor and underserved. He broke racial barriers when he pushed for certification of black medical students.

First African American to be certified by a surgical specialty board in North Carolina.

Played key role in founding Lincoln Community Health Center, a free standing clinic, which served people regardless of their ability to pay.

Joined the staff of Lincoln Hospital as Chief of Surgery in 1950. Lincoln was one of the few American hospitals at the time that granted surgical privileges to African-American physicians.

Completed his surgical training at Freedman's Hospital in Washington, DC under the tutelage of Dr. Charles Drew.

Worked to prepare Lincoln's interns and residents for board certification and convinced Duke University Medical School to oversee Lincoln's training program so that students could get board certified.

Fought along with other community leaders for the creation of one integrated public health care facility, Durham Regional Hospital, built in Durham in 1967. This led to the closing of both Watts and Lincoln hospitals.

Served as Adjunct Clinical Professor of Surgery at Duke and Director of Student Health at North Carolina Central University.

Served for 28 years as Vice President and Medical Director for North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co., the largest African-American managed insurer in the country.

Member of the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine, a fellow in the American College of Surgeons, and an active participant in the National Medical Association.

1990's - History in the Making

 Dr. David Satcher

  • 16th Surgeon General of the United States, sworn in Feb. 13, 1998
  • Director of Center for Disease Control (CDC), Nov. 15, 1993 until being sworn in as Surgeon General. While at CDC, he increased childhood immunization rates from 55% in 1992 to 78% in 1996.
  • President, Meharry Medical College, 1982-1993
  • Elected in 1986 to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences

Dr. Ben Carson

  • Director (at age 32), Pediatric Neurosurgery, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore
  • Separated Siamese twins joined at the cranium in 1987. A 70-member surgical team, led by Dr. Carson, operated for 22 hours.
  • Graduate of Yale University; MD, University of Michigan School of Medicine
  • Described in his autobiography, Gifted Hands (1990), as an unmotivated child from the Detroit ghetto

Dr. Paula Renee Mahone
and Dr. Karen Lynn Drake

Drs. Paula Mahone, M.D. (left) and Karen Drake, M.D. (right) were members of a team of forty specialists involved in the delivery of the McCaughey septuplets at the Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa on November 19, 1997.

Dr. Mae C. Jemison

First Black Female astronaut in NASA history (August, 1992). After earning her M.D. at Cornell University in 1981, Dr. Jemison went on to research various vaccines in conjunction with the Center for Disease Control (CDC). She continued, and quite literally elevated, her medical research on the shuttle Endeavour by conducting experiments in materials processing and life sciences in space.