Black History Month is a time for many things. It is a time to celebrate all our hard-won achievements. It is a time to reflect on the challenging, often heartbreaking road we’ve endured for those achievements. It is a time to come to terms with the fact that, while we’ve succeed in so much, it is a very long road and we, as a community, are at a crossroads – our journey is by no means over.
It is a time to hope for all the future joys and future successes that, with more dedication and more effort, will surely be ours.
Below is a timeline of our amazing healthcare journey (so far)…
1721 - Onesimus, an enslaved African, describes to Cotton Mather, an influential American writer and religious leader, the African method of inoculation against smallpox. This technique, later used to protect American Revolutionary War soldiers, is perfected in the 1790’s by British doctor Edward Jenner’s in the 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 “colored” 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 “colored” person to earn a medical degree.
1852 - The Jackson Street Hospital, in Augusta, GA, 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 of the 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 “colored” people in the nation.
Susie Baker (who later became known as Susie King Taylor), born a slave in Georgia in 1848, becomes the first “colored” U.S. Army nurse during the Civil War. She served in a newly formed regiment of “colored” 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 “colored” female to earn a medical degree, graduates from New England Female Medical College, Boston.
1867 - Robert Tanner Freeman, born in 1847 to slave parents in North Carolina, is one of the first six graduates in dental medicine from Harvard University, thus becoming the first “colored” man to receive an education in dentistry and a dental degree from an American medical school.
1868 - Howard University School of Medicine is established in Washington, D.C. to educate “colored” doctors. Notably, the school welcomes both “Negro” and white students, including women.
1878 - Dr. James Francis Shober earns his M.D. from Howard University School of Medicine and later becomes the first known “colored” physician with a medical degree to practice in North Carolina.
1879 - Mary Eliza Mahoney becomes the first professional “colored” nurse, graduating from the New England Hospital for Women and Children (Now the Dimock Community Health Center) in Boston.
1881 - The first school of record for “colored” student nurses is established at Spelman College in Atlanta.
1891 - Dr. Daniel Hale Williams establishes the Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses in Chicago, the first “colored”-owned and first interracial hospital in the United States. Dr. Austin Maurice Curtis, Sr. (a Raleigh native) becomes the hospital’s first intern.
1893 - Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performs the first successful operation on a human heart at Provident Hospital. The patient, a victim of a chest stab wound, survived and lived a normal life for twenty years after the operation.
1895 - The National Medical Association is founded in Atlanta, GA, since “colored” people are barred from other established medical groups.
Dr. Nathan Francis Mossell founds the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School for Nurses in Philadelphia, PA.
1900 - The Washington Society of Colored Dentists, the first organization of “colored” dentists, is founded in Washington, D.C.
1901 - Dr. Aaron McDuffie Moore convinces Washington Duke to donate money for the construction of Lincoln Hospital in Durham, NC.
1904 - Alois Alzheimer selects five foreign visiting students at the Royal Psychiatric Hospital, University of Munich, as his graduate research assistants, including black 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 “Negro” 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.
1915 - The NAACP awards Dr. Ernest E. Just the first Springarn Medal for his pioneering research on fertilization and cell division.
1917 - In 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, becomes the world’s first “Negro” osteopathic physician.
1927 - Dr. William Augustus Hinton develops the Hinton Test for diagnosing syphilis in Boston, MA. (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 a Negro to be published.