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Barnes, William Harry (04 April 1887–15 June 1945), physician and otolaryngologist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of George W. Barnes, a menial laborer, and Eliza Webb. Young Barnes and his two sisters lived poverty-stricken lives on Lombard Street, a very poor area of the city. He decided at an early age to become a physician, a decision unheard of and regarded as preposterous in his neighborhood. His parents tried to discourage him from pursuing what to them seemed like an absolutely impossible dream for a poor black youth, hoping rather to get him to focus his attention on getting realistic employment. Determined, he walked ten miles every day to and from school and from his after-school work as a porter and messenger for jewelry shops. During summers he worked as a porter in hotels. Seeing people who lived a far different and more elegant lifestyle than his own galvanized him to work himself out of poverty. In 1908 he graduated from Philadelphia’s Central High School with a collegiate bachelor of arts degree and decided to compete for a four-year scholarship to medical school offered by the University of Pennsylvania. He spent the entire summer of 1908 in serious study, took the competitive examination, passed it, and became the first black person to ever win that scholarship. Four years later, in 1912, he received an M.D. and began an internship (1912–1913) at Douglass and Mercy hospitals in Philadelphia. Also in 1912 he married Mattie E. Thomas; they would have five children....

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Harry Benjamin. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine (B02717).

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Benjamin, Harry (12 January 1885–24 August 1986), physician, endocrinologist, and sex researcher, was born in Berlin, Germany, the son of Julius Benjamin, a banker, and Bertha Hoffman. He became interested in human sexuality at the age of twenty, when he read August Forel’s ...

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Chinn, May Edward (15 April 1896–01 December 1980), physician and cancer researcher, was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the daughter of William Lafayette Chinn, a former slave who had escaped to the North from a Virginia plantation and had unsteady employment as a result of race discrimination, and Lulu Ann Evans, a domestic worker. Occasionally William Chinn worked at odd jobs and as a porter. Raised in New York City, May Chinn was educated in the city’s public schools and at the Bordentown Manual Training and Industrial School (N.J.), and she attended Morris High School in New York. A severe bout with osteomyelitis of the jaw plagued her as a child and required extensive medical treatment. Her family’s poverty forced her to drop out of high school in the eleventh grade for a factory job. A year later she scored high enough on the entrance examination for Teachers’ College at Columbia University to be admitted to the class of 1921 without a high school diploma....

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Fraser, Sarah Loguen (29 January 1850–09 April 1933), a pioneering African American physician specializing in pediatrics, was born in Syracuse, New York, as Marinda Sarah Loguen, the daughter of Caroline Storum and the Reverend Jermain Wesley Loguen, a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Both parents were lifelong activists in the movement to abolish slavery in the United States, and they established their family home as a “station” (safe house) in the underground railroad, harboring some 1,500 African Americans who passed through Syracuse en route to asylum in Canada during the decades preceding the Civil War. The U.S. Fugitive Slave Act, which criminalized any failure to report knowledge of the whereabouts of an escaped slave, became federal law the year of Sarah Loguen's birth. This posed new threats to the entire family and especially to Reverend Loguen, who had escaped from slavery in his youth....

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Hepburn, James Curtis (13 March 1815–21 September 1911), medical missionary, oculist, and lexicographer, was born in Milton, Pennsylvania, the son of Samuel Hepburn, a lawyer, and Ann Clay, the daughter of the Reverend Slator Clay. Hepburn received his early education at home and at the Milton Academy. At the age of fourteen he matriculated as a junior in Princeton College, from which he graduated in 1832. He began his medical studies with Dr. Samuel Pollack of Milton, Pennsylvania, and then attended the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, from which he graduated with an M.D. in 1836. In 1835 he was awarded an A.M. by Princeton College....

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Abraham Jacobi. Courtesy of the Clendening History of Medicine Library, University of Kansas Medical Center.

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Jacobi, Abraham (06 May 1830–10 July 1919), physician, pediatrician, and medical educator, was born in Hartum, Westphalia, Prussia, the son of Eliezer Jacobi, a poor Jewish shopkeeper, and Julia Abel. Following Gymnasium in Mindin, he attended the Universities of Greifswald (1847–1848), Göttingen (1848–1849), and Bonn (1849–1851), from which he received his medical degree. In Berlin to take his state medical examinations in 1851, he was arrested for his part in the German revolution of 1848 and imprisoned for nearly two years. A close friend and fellow revolutionary, ...

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Schloss, Oscar Menderson (20 June 1882–13 October 1952), physician and pediatrician, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Hugo Schloss and Aurelia Menderson. He received an S.B. in 1902 from Alabama Polytechnic Institute and an M.D. in 1905 from Johns Hopkins Medical School. He married Rowena Farmer in October 1912; they had one son....

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Solis-Cohen, Jacob da Silva (28 February 1838–22 December 1927), physician and pioneer laryngologist, was born in New York City, the son of Myer David Cohen and Judith Simiah da Silva Solis. In 1840 the family moved to Philadelphia, where, twenty years later, Solis-Cohen received an M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He began his medical residency in 1861 at Old Blockley in Philadelphia but resigned the same year to enlist as a private in the Union army at the outbreak of the Civil War. He was soon commissioned as a lieutenant in the infantry and later appointed as assistant surgeon in the Twenty-sixth Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers. He served the regiment in ...

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Stein, Jules Caesar (26 April 1896–29 April 1981), entertainment executive and physician, was born in South Bend, Indiana, the son of Louis M. Stein and Rosa Cohen. His extraordinary achievements began in the classroom. A student at West Virginia University while still in his early teens, he graduated from the University of Chicago at the age of nineteen. His medical degree was earned at Rush Medical College, Chicago, in 1921. He acquired a specialty in ophthalmology at the Eye Clinic of the University of Vienna and first practiced this as chief resident in ophthalmology at Cook County Hospital in Chicago and subsequently in an affiliation with Dr. Harry Gradle, also of Chicago. His depth of knowledge is revealed in “Telescopic Spectacles and Magnifiers as Aids to Poor Vision” (1924), which quickly became the definitive manual in this specialty....