James McCune Smith

James McCune Smith

Physician and Abolitionist
Born Apr 28, 1813

James McCune Smith was an American physician, apothecary, abolitionist, 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.… Read More

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1813 Birth Smith was born free in 1813 in New York City (New York state had passed gradual abolition in 1799; children of slave mothers were born free but had to serve an indenture until early adulthood.) His mother, believed to be Lavinia Smith, achieved her freedom later in life; she said she was a "self-emancipated woman." … Read More


1826 13 Years Old In the course of his studies, Smith was tutored by Rev. Peter Williams, Jr., a graduate of the African Free School who had been ordained in 1826 as the second African-American priest in the Episcopal Church. (Williams had founded St. Philip's African Church in New York City.) Upon graduation, Smith applied to Columbia University and Geneva Medical College in New York State, but was denied admission due to racial discrimination. … Read More


1833 20 Years Old According to the historian Thomas M. Morgan, Smith enjoyed the relative racial tolerance in Scotland and England, which officially abolished slavery in 1833. (New York had finally abolished all slavery in 1826.) He studied and graduated at the top of his class.
1835 22 Years Old He obtained a bachelor's degree in 1835, a master's degree in 1836, and a medical degree in 1837. … Read More
1837 24 Years Old When he returned to New York City in 1837 with his degrees, Smith was greeted as a hero by the black community. … Read More


1846 33 Years Old 1 More Event
In 1846, Smith was appointed as the only doctor of the Colored Orphan Asylum (also known as the Free Negro Orphan Asylum), at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue. (Before that time, the directors had depended on pro bono services of doctors.) He worked there for nearly 20 years. … Read More
1850 37 Years Old In 1850 as a member of the Committee of Thirteen, Smith was one of the key organizers of resistance in New York City to the newly passed Fugitive Slave Act, which required states to aid federal law enforcement in capturing escaped slaves. … Read More
1852 39 Years Old 1 More Event
…  Invited as a founding member of the New York Statistics Society in 1852, which promoted a new science, he was elected as a member in 1854 of the recently founded American Geographic Society. … Read More


1854 41 Years Old In 1854 he was elected as a member by the American Geographical Society (founded in New York in 1851 by top scientists as well as wealthy amateurs interested in exploration). … Read More
1859 46 Years Old 1 More Event
In 1859 he published an article using scientific findings and analysis to refute the former president Thomas Jefferson's theories of race, as expressed in his well-known Notes on the State of Virginia (1785).


1863 50 Years Old 1 More Event
In July 1863, during the three-day New York Draft Riots, in which most participants were ethnic Irish, rioters attacked and burned down the orphan asylum.
1865 53 Years Old At the time, Smith was too ill to take the position. He died two years later on November 17, 1865 of congestive heart failure on Long Island, New York at the age of 52. … Read More
Original Authors of this text are noted on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_McCune_Smith.
Text is made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.