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Thu, 04.14.1842

Charles B. Purvis, Physician born

Charles B. Purvis

*Charles Burleigh Purvis was born on this date in 1842.  He was a Black physician.

Purvis was born in Philadelphia, PA., his parents were white abolitionist Robert Purvis and Harriet Forten Purvis. Charles was the fifth of eight children and worked on the farm as a young man. He attended some public schools, but most of his schooling was with the Quakers. He enrolled at Oberlin College in 1860 and stayed for two years but did not finish. In 1862 he entered the Medical College at Western Reserve in Cleveland.  In 1864 he served in the Union Army in the American Civil War as a military nurse.  This was at Camp Barker and he graduated from Western Reserve in March 1865. Two months after graduation he took the position of acting assistant surgeon with a rank of first lieutenant and was assigned to duty in Washington, DC. He served in this role until 1869.  

In Washington, D.C. He was among the founders of the medical school at Howard University. He was the first black physician to attend a sitting president when he attended President James Garfield after he was shot by an assassin in 1881, he was the first black physician to head a hospital under civilian authority when he was made surgeon-in-charge of the Freedmen's Hospital that same year. He was first black person to serve on the D. C. Board of Medical Examiners and the second black instructor at an American medical school. He was also a leading activist in civil rights and universal suffrage movements.  In 1869, Purvis and Alexander Thomas Augusta were proposed for membership of the Medical Society of DC, a branch of the American Medical Association.

They were considered eligible but did not receive enough votes. Another black physician, A. W. Tucker, was proposed on June 23, but was also rejected. In response, these three formed the National Medical Society.   Purvis married Ann Hathaway on April 13, 1871. They had two children; Alice who became a physician and Robert who became a dentist.  From October 1, 1881, to 1894, he was appointed by President Chester Arthur to Surgeon-in-Charge at the Freedmen's Hospital, the first black person to head a hospital under civilian authority.   In 1904, Purvis was granted a license to practice in Massachusetts and admitted to the Massachusetts Medical Society, and in 1905 he moved to Boston.  Purvis resigned from the Howard University medical school on May 28, 1907. He was appointed professor emeritus on January 21, 1908.  In 1908, he was elected a member of the board of trustees and served until his resignation on June 1, 1926.  

He was a Mason and along with his father and many others, were active in feminist movements and calls for universal suffrage.  Purvis was criticized for not being thoroughly identified with blacks, having light skin, marrying a white woman, and sending his daughter to white public schools in DC.  Charles Burleigh Purvis died in Los Angeles, California, on December 14, 1929.   

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