Black History Month: Dr. Alexander Thomas Augusta

First African-American physician in the U.S. Army. First Black professor of medicine in the U.S. First Black hospital administrator in the U.S.

Dr. Alexander Thomas Augusta grew up free in Norfolk, Virginia, but his rights were still severely restricted, such that he had to learn to read and write in secret while working as a barber. He moved to Baltimore and there married Mary O. Burgoin in 1847. It was in Baltimore that Augusta began to really pursue a career in medicine. After being refused entry by the University of Pennsylvania, he hired a private instructor and moved to California to earn the money he would need to finance his education. In 1850, he decided to move again– this time to Canada, where he successfully enrolled at Trinity College, in the University of Toronto. Augusta remained in Toronto for some time after completing his medical degree, working as a druggist and chemist, starting his own medical practice, directing an industrial school, supporting anti-slavery efforts, and founding the Provincial Association for the Education and Elevation of the Coloured People of Canada, which provided books and school supplies to Black children. 

After a brief time spent in the West Indies, Augusta returned to the U.S. in 1861, and became the first African-American physician in the United States Army in 1863. That same year, he also became the first Black hospital administrator in the country when he was appointed to lead the Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. He faced much racism during his time in the army, but remained in service and ended up receiving a brevet promotion to lieutenant colonel by the time he mustered out in 1866. He spent much of his life during and after the war speaking out against racial discrimination, and later teaching. He became the first Black professor of medicine in the United States, among many other accomplishments he achieved before his death in 1890, at the age of sixty-five.

Shaelyn Ryan <br>(Collections Technician/Assistant 2022)
Shaelyn Ryan
(Collections Technician/Assistant 2022)

Shaelyn Ryan is a recent graduate of Queen’s University, having completed her Bachelor’s degree in History in 2021, and is returning to Queen’s in the fall to pursue a Master’s degree in History. Either as a Summer Student or Work-Study Student through Queen’s University, Shaelyn has helped catalogue and research many of the museum’s collection of artefacts as a Collections Technician (since 2018). 

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