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Black History Month: African American’s in Medicine

In honor of Black History Month, here are some African-American superheroes who were pioneers in medicine:

Charles Richard Drew (1904–1950)

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Dr. Drew’s pioneering research and methodical developments in the use and preservation of blood plasma during World War II not only saved thousands of lives, but revolutionized the nation’s blood banking process and standardized procedures for long-term blood preservation and storage techniques adapted by the American Red Cross.

Percy Lavon Julian (1899-1975)

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Born in Montgomery, Alabama, Percy Lavon Julian was a chemist by trade. In addition to developing a drug used for the treatment of glaucoma, Julian is best known for his synthesis of cortisone. He also developed a flame retardant used by the U.S. Navy in World War II which saved the lives of many sailors. In 1953, Percy Julian established the Julian Laboratories, which produced steroid-containing compounds. He subsequently hired many African American scientists who shared his interest in a career in the scientific field.

Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845-1926)

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Mary Eliza Mahoney was admitted to the nursing school of the New England Hospital for Women and Children, and became the first black woman to complete nurse’s training in 1879. She was also one of the first black members of the American Nurses Association, and has been credited as one of the first women to register to vote in Boston following the ratification of the 19th Amendment (women’s right to vote) in 1920. Mahoney was inducted into both the Nursing Hall of Fame and the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She died in Boston in 1926.

James McCune Smith (1811-1865)

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A native of New York, Dr. Smith was born, in his own words, “the son of a self-emancipated bond-woman.” Since he was denied admission to colleges in the United States, Dr. Smith earned baccalaureate, master’s, and medical degrees at Glasgow University in Scotland. Upon his return to New York City in 1837, Dr. Smith became the first black physician to publish articles in U.S. medical journals. Dr. Smith’s scientific articles debunked the racial theories in Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, refuted phrenology and homeopathy, and responded with a forceful statistical critique to the racially biased US Census of 1840. Frederick Douglass, Gerrit Smith, and John Brown personally collaborated with Dr. Smith in the fight for black freedom.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831- 1895)

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Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler was born free on February 8, 1831 in Christiana, Delaware. In 1852 Davis was living in Charlestown, Massachusetts where she worked as a nurse for eight years. She enrolled in the New England Female Medical College in 1860, at a time when obviously, most medical schools at that time it did not admit African Americans. Despite its reluctance, the faculty awarded Davis her medical doctorate. Much of Dr. Crumpler’s work focused on the health needs of freed slaves and others with limited access to medical care. “A Book of Medical Discourses,” which she published in 1883, is one of the first known medical books by an African American.

William Augustus Hinton (1883-1959)

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William Hinton was born the son of former slaves in 1883 in Chicago, Illinois. He completed his medical program at Harvard Medical School in three years instead of the usual four, graduating with honors. For most of his research career, William Augustus Hinton worked on laboratory tests designed to improve the diagnosis of sexually transmitted diseases. In 1927, he developed a more simplistic, cost effective, and more accurate test for diagnosing syphilis. Dr. Hinton was also the first African American professor to teach at Harvard University.

Daniel Hale Williams (1856-1931)

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Daniel Hale Williams was one of the first physicians to perform open-heart surgery in the United States in 1893. The surgery was part of a significant medical advancement and a huge step in the fight for equality, since Williams was one of the nation’s few black cardiologists at the time. He later founded the Provident Hospital, which was the first hospital to not be segregated in the United States.

We, at Staunton Primary Care, do not take for granted the sacrifices these pioneers made. We strive to provide high quality primary care to all persons in our community of Cincinnati, Ohio.

To learn more history of the journey this country took to accepting black practitioners of medicine, you can check out the National Library of Medicine’s exhibit on the topic, as well as other resources included below.