March 17 to April 26, 2014
Part of the National Library of Medicine’s (NLM) traveling exhibition program,Opening Doors highlights four prominent African-American surgeons and examines their roles as educators, healers, and pioneers. Featured are Alexa I. Canady, the first African American woman pediatric neurosurgeon; LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr., cancer surgeon, and the first African American President of the American College of Surgeons and the American Cancer Society; Claude H. Organ, Jr., general surgeon, and the first African American to chair a department of surgery at a predominantly white medical school; and Rosalyn P. Scott, the first African American woman cardiothoracic surgeon. In addition, the careers of five other surgeons are more briefly looked at, giving a broad view of the role of African-Americans in contemporary American medicine.
The NLM cautions that Opening Doors “is not intended to be an encyclopedic look at African American academic surgeons” but “takes the visitor on a journey through the lives and achievements of these academic surgeons, and provides a glimpse into the stories of those that came before them and those that continue the tradition today.”
African-Americans have long practiced medicine both in slavery and in freedom as herbal healers, midwives, and bone setters, but mainstream medicine – and especially academic medicine – was long closed to them by widespread racial discrimination. This, however, did not prevent some from achieving distinction.
The first African-American to receive a medical degree, James McCune Smith (1813-1865) had to go to Scotland for his education, receiving the M.D. from the University of Glasgow in 1837. He would later make his home in New York City where he became a leading abolitionist and the first African-American to publish in a medical journal. Daniel Hale Williams (1856-1931) performed one of the first successful open heart surgeries, when in 1893 he repaired the torn pericardium of a knife wound patient. Charles R. Drew (1904-1950) did his groundbreaking work on blood banking while a doctoral student at the Medical Center; when he was awarded the Doctor of Medical Science degree from Columbia in 1940, he was the first African-American to receive such a degree. Dr. Kenneth A. Forde (P&S 1959), José M. Ferrer Professor of Surgery and one of the country’s leading thoracic surgeons, now serves on the Columbia University Board of Trustees.
The first African-American to graduate from the College of Physicians and Surgeons was Travis J. A. Johnson in 1908. After practicing medicine in New York City for less than ten years, he tragically died in a car accident in 1917. The first African-American woman graduate was Agnes O. Griffin (1897-1991) in 1923. Between 1908 and 1940, P&S graduated 15 African-Americans
Opening Doors may be seen during regular library hours: 8am-11pm, Monday-Thursday; 8am-8pm, Friday; 10am-11pm Saturday; and noon-11pm Sunday. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
There will be an opening reception March 18th 4-6pm where Dr. Kenneth Forde, Jose M. Ferrer Professor of Surgery Emeritus and Columbia University Trustee will speak.
Opening Doors was developed and produced by the National Library of Medicine and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, Baltimore, Maryland.