Black History Month, also known as African American History Month, is an annual celebration of African Americans’ achievements and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. During this time, we reflect on more than 400 years of Black history and heritage in the field of medicine.
We hope you will enjoy learning about these pioneers in medicine and share their stories with your friends and colleagues.
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first Black female physician in the United States.
After working as a nurse, she was admitted to the New England Female Medical College in 1864. After her M.D., Crumpler worked in poor communities in Richmond, Virginia and Boston, Massachusetts aiding those who had little access to medical care. She published the widely renowned medical text Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts in 1883, which is believed to be the first textbook authored by a black academic.
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. 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 Black 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 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. Helen O. Dickens
(1909 – 2001)
Dr. Dickens was the first Black woman admitted to American College of Surgeons.
The daughter of a former slave, Helen would sit at the front of the class in medical school to not be bothered by the racist comments and gestures made by her classmates. Her parents struggled to make a living, and both insisted that she receive a good education and follow a professional career. In 1950, Dr. Helen Dickens was the first African American woman admitted to the American College of Surgeons. By 1969 she was associate dean in the Office for Minority Affairs at the University of Pennsylvania, and within five years had increased minority enrollment from three students to sixty-four.
Dr. Roselyn Payne Epps
(1930 – 2014)
Milestones & Achievements:
- Dr. Roselyn Epps was the first African American local president of the American Medical Women’s Association.
- Dr. Roselyn Epps was the first African American and the first woman to become president of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Dr. Roselyn Epps was the first African American elected national president of the American Medical Women’s Association.
- Dr. Roselyn Epps was the first African American woman president of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia.
Dr. Epp’s career has included research, private practice, and work at the D.C. Department of Public Health, including medical officer in child health clinics, director of the comprehensive Clinic for Retarded Children, chief of the Infant and Preschool Division, director of the Children and Youth Project, chief of the Bureau of Maternal and Child Health, director of Maternal and Child Health and Crippled Children’s Services, and chief of the Bureau of Clinical Services. Dr. Epps has authored more than ninety professional articles in peer reviewed publications, including sixteen chapters and books. She co-edited The Women’s Complete Healthbook selected by the New York Public Library as one of 1995’s most outstanding reference books. She was also co-editor of Developing a Child Care Program, a guide for hospital and corporate decision-makers, and has written health columns in regional and national newspapers.
Black History Month 2021 Theme
Since 1976, every American president has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme. The Black History Month 2021 theme, “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity” explores the African diaspora, and the spread of Black families across the United States.
For more on this, please visit The Library of Congress’ website for African American History Month.
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