Boston’s black medical community thrived in the mid-19th century

Anthony W. Neal | 4/11/2012, 8:12 a.m.

Georgian Dr. William Worthy, also a graduate of that medical school, established a medical practice at 676 Shawmut Ave. Dr. B. L. Whitehead, who graduated from the BCPS in 1909, practiced medicine in Boston as well, opening an office at 410 Massachusetts Ave. After obtaining his B.A., magna cum laude, from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1902, Whitehead’s classmate, Dr. Walter O. Taylor, a 1909 graduate of the medical school, settled in the city and served on the faculty of Plymouth Hospital.

Dr. John Alexander Braithwaite left Barbados for Massachusetts in 1903. After obtaining his medical degree from the BCPS in 1912, he founded St. Paul’s Baby Clinic in Cambridge, Mass., serving as its director. He later became president of the Bay State Medical, Dental and Pharmaceutical Society. Dr. Braithwaite conducted his practice at 75 Brookline St. in Cambridge.

Originally from Charlotte, N.C., Dr. Pinckney M. Henderson graduated from Howard Medical College in 1892. He came to Boston and set up his medical practice at 431 Columbus Ave.

Dr. W. H. N. Springer offered “manipulation for acute and chronic diseases.” His office on 33 Warwick St. contained “all modern improvements for Turkish hot air and vapor baths.”

Dentists and Pharmacists

The Census of 1900 documents 10 African American dentists residing in Boston at that time. Among them was Dr. George Franklin Grant, who had earned a reputation for exceptional skill in bridge work. Originally from Oswego, N.Y., he moved to Boston in 1867 and earned a degree from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine in 1870. In 1881, he was elected president of the Harvard Dental Alumni Association. Also an inventor, Grant patented the oblate palate, a prosthetic device that allowed patients to speak more normally. He also obtained a U.S. patent for the first wooden golf tee in 1899.

Grant was the second African American to earn a degree in dentistry. The first was Robert Tanner Freeman, who had graduated from the same school a year earlier, but had elected to set up his practice in Washington, D.C. An authority on mechanical dentistry, Grant became the Harvard School of Dental Medicine’s first black faculty member. He taught there for 19 years.

Dr. J.D. Gibson, a graduate of Boston College of Physicians and Surgeons, was a physician and dentist who specialized in mouth diseases. He owned New Painless Dental Parlors, located at 810 Tremont St. Gibson asked, “Why neglect your teeth, when we offer you such liberal opportunities?” He made his services affordable by offering his patients a weekly payment plan. Gibson later became Surgeon General of the United Negro Improvement Association.

A few doors away at 798 Tremont St., dentist and surgeon Dr. Charles W. Kerr also maintained a practice.

Originally from Norfolk, Va., Dr. Alfred P. Russell Jr., a dentist who had graduated at the top of his class at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine in 1908, specialized in cleft palate treatment. Russell was active in community affairs as the organizer of the Roxbury Civic Club and a member of the NAACP. His office could be found at 4 Hazelwood St. in Roxbury.