Black History Month: Dr. Charles R. Drew

First African-American to be an examiner for the American Board of Surgery. First director of the American Red Cross Blood Bank.

Dr. Charles Richard Drew was born on June 3rd, 1904 in Washington, D.C. Washington was segregated at this time, and Drew attended excellent schools in the African-American community. Highly athletic and ambitious, he won numerous awards and was well-liked among his classmates. Drew became interested in medicine when he took biology courses at Amherst College, coupled with his sister Elsie’s death from tuberculosis and his own trips to the hospital for a football injury. Because of racial segregation, Drew did not have many options when it came to medical schools, and those options he did have were not willing to accept him right away. Drew went instead to McGill University in Montréal to obtain his medical degree, which he did in 1933, graduating second in his class. It was at the Montréal General Hospital that he developed an interest in blood transfusion. 

Among many other accomplishments, Drew helped establish an experimental blood bank at New York’s Presbyterian Hospital, and later served as medical director of the Blood for Britain Program during World War II. In 1941, Drew became the director of the first American Red Cross Blood Bank, and he invented mobile stations for blood donations (bloodmobiles). As the program grew, Black people became barred from donating and then had to donate separately. Drew railed against these racist regulations, and resigned from his official positions. He later became the first African American to be an examiner for the American Board of Surgery, and spent the rest of his career training students and improving Black medical education, efforts for which he earned numerous awards and honours. Tragically, Charles R. Drew died as the result of a car accident which occurred on the way to a conference. Despite every effort to save his life (contrary to the popular myth that he was denied a blood transfusion or treatment due to his race), he succumbed to his injuries on April 1st, 1950, leaving behind a tremendous medical legacy.

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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