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Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller: Nation’s first black psychiatrist

Black History

Anthony W. Neal | 2/21/2013, 11:42 a.m.

Fuller was a member of numerous professional organizations, including: the American Psychiatric Association, the Boston Society for Psychiatry and Neurology, the Massachusetts Medical Society, the New England Medical Society, the New England Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, the Association of Neuropathologists, the American Institute of Homeopathy and the Massachusetts Homeopathic Medical Society.

He served as pathologist and director of the Clinical Society Commission of Massachusetts from 1897 to 1919 and, for many of those years, edited the Westborough State Hospital Papers, a journal reporting the medical research of the hospital’s staff. Dr. Fuller served on the staff of the Westborough State Hospital for 45 years, 22 years as pathologist and 23 years as consultant.

For 11 years, he was visiting neurologist at Massachusetts Memorial Hospital and, for 10 years, consultant neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. Fuller served as a consultant at the Framingham Marlboro Hospital as well and remained a consultant of the Allentown, Pa., State Hospital for 30 years. The psychiatrist offered assistance in the development of the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Tuskegee, Ala., the aim of which was to provide medical care for African American veterans in the South. While he himself did not work at the facility, he helped to train its black psychiatry staff.

On Feb. 9, 1909, Fuller married the renowned and talented sculptor Meta Vaux Warwick, a native of Philadelphia. She had studied in Paris, where the sculptor Auguste Rodin praised her work. Dr. Fuller bought land on Warren Road, an affluent section of Framingham, and built a home where the couple settled down and raised three sons: Solomon C. Fuller III, William Thomas Fuller and Perry James Fuller.

Dr. Fuller taught in the Boston University School of Medicine Department of Neurology for 34 years. He decided to retire in 1933 when a white assistant professor was promoted to full professor and appointed head of that department. During his last five years at the university, Fuller had in fact performed all of the duties and responsibilities of head of the department, but was never offered the title. From that experience the doctor deduced, “With the sort of work that I have done, I might have gone farther and reached a higher plane had it not been for my color.”

Fifty years after his graduation, in 1943, Livingstone College bestowed the honorary degree of Doctor of Science upon Fuller and proclaimed him one of the school’s outstanding alumni. He enjoyed his retirement as an avid reader and master gardener, and he showed great mastery in bookbinding. Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller died of diabetes mellitus and gastrointestinal cancer at Framingham Union Hospital on Jan. 16, 1953 at the age of 80. He was survived by his wife, Meta, and his three children.

In recognition of Fuller’s contributions, Boston University, through an act of the Massachusetts legislature in 1974, opened the Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Center — a 10-story building located at 85 East Newton St. in the South End. Two decades later, in September of 1994, the town of Framingham opened the doors of a middle school to reduce student overcrowding, and decided within months to name it the Fuller Middle School, in honor of Dr. Fuller and his wife, Meta.