Karen Morris

Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Medical Doctor (MD)

First Advisor

Susan E. Lederer


In 1869, a mere four years after the end of the Civil War and during a time when Southern sentiment ran high in Washington, D.C., three African-American physicians applied for membership into the all-white Medical Society of the District of Columbia (MSDC). Though meeting all eligibility requirements, they were denied admission into this society based solely on their race. Amidst much publicity in the local newspapers, the three physicians and their supporters sought remedy of the exclusionary practices of the MSDC on the floor of Congress and at the American Medical Associations (AMA) Annual Meeting. However, those opposed to integrating the society proved formidable. Despite pitched battles in both the Congress and the AMA, African American physicians did not succeed in their quest for acceptance into the all-white medical societies. Following the opening of Negro medical schools throughout the country, the numbers of African American physicians slowly increased. Still unable to join local medical societies and the AMA, many of these physicians practiced in a professional vacuum devoid of opportunities to interact with and learn from other physicians. Recognizing the need for continuing education, social camaraderie, and professional unity, the African American physicians began to form their own local medical societies. In 1892 a call went out in an editorial printed in the Medical and Surgical Observer, the first Negro medical journal, for a national voice for the colored physicians. In 1895, three years after the call, several physicians met in an Atlanta, GA church and founded the National Medical Association (NMA). Unfortunately, no single document chronicles the significant events that preceded the founding of the NMA and examines the biographies of the key figures involved in this historic event. Through a review of primary and secondary sources, this study provides a complete account by examining the personal backgrounds and motivating factors of the African American physicians who originally applied for admission into the MSDC in 1869. Further, this thesis analyzes the stories of the physicians who ultimately created their own national medical organization in 1895 following the many failed attempts to integrate the all-white societies. In addition to a thorough review of the battles that ensued in the Congress and the AMA, this study considers the personal and group motivations for excluding the African American physicians.


This is an Open Access Thesis.

Open Access

This Article is Open Access