James McCune Smith

James McCune Smith (April 18, 1813 – November 17, 1865) was an American physicianapothecaryabolitionist, and author. He is the first African-American to earn a medical degree, and the first to run a pharmacy in the United States. Smith wrote forcefully in refutation of the common misconceptions about race, intelligence, medicine, and society in general. His friends and colleagues in this movement were often famous and consisted of many noted abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass.

Smith was born to a self-emancipated mother and father in New York City, New York.[1] He attended the African Free School, where he is described as an “exceptionally bright student”.[2] In the course of his studies, he was tutored by Rev. Peter Williams, Jr., an Episcopalian minister at St. Phillip’s Church in New York City, and who was also a graduate of the African Free School. Upon graduation, Smith applied to Columbia University and Geneva Medical College in New York State, but he was denied admission by each of them due to racial discrimination.

Williams suggested that Smith attend the University of Glasgow in Scotland.[3] Williams helped Smith raise money for his trip to Scotland and his subsequent education there. Smith was accepted to the university, where he later graduated at the top of his class. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1835, a master’s degree in 1836, and a medical degree in 1837. Upon his return to New York City in 1837, Smith became the United States’ first professionally trained African-American physician. His practice spanned 25 years. In 1846, he was appointed the only doctor of the Free Negro Orphan Asylum, where he worked for more than twenty years.[4] He opened what has been called the first black pharmacy in the United States, which was located on West Broadway.[5]

Smith died November 17, 1865 of congestive heart failure in Long Island, New York two years later at the age of 52, just nineteen days before the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, abolishing slavery throughout the country.[9]

James McCune Smith