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History Notes
Solomon Carter Fuller: First Black Psychiatrist
Psychiatric News
Volume 37 Number 17 page 19-19

Until the civil rights movement of the 1960s, there was only a small number of black psychiatrists in the United States. Today, APA counts 1,666 black psychiatrists among its members.

The first known black psychiatrist was Solomon Carter Fuller, M.D., who attained sufficient recognition and distinction as a neuropathologist and clinician to warrant an obituary in the New England Journal of Medicine when he died in 1953. His portrait hangs with those of psychiatry’s founding fathers at APA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Fuller was born in Liberia. He came to the United States in 1889 to attend Livingston College in Salisbury, N.C., which 50 years later awarded him an honorary Doctor of Science degree. He graduated from Boston University Medical School in 1894 and began an internship at Westboro State Hospital. Two years later he was promoted to pathologist and also named to a faculty post at his alma mater. He remained on staff at Westboro for 45 years as a pathologist and later a consultant.

In 1904 Fuller went to Munich, Germany, for a year to study psychiatry with Kraepelin and in the laboratory of Alzheimer.

On his return to Westboro he continued his interest in brain pathology and began to publish. His first publication in 1904 was a report on pernicious anemia in the insane, but after his return from Germany, his papers were on neuropathology. In 1907 the American Journal of Insanity (AJI), later the American Journal of Psychiatry, published his "Study of Neurofibrils in Dementia Paralytica, Dementia Seniles, Chronic Alcoholism." In 1911 AJI published his paper on plaques in the brain of aged people, which stated, "The plaques were the deposits in brain tissue of a chemical substance resulting from pathological metabolism of nervous elements." In a later paper he used the term "amyloid."

The Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases published his report of the ninth case of Alzheimer’s disease in 1912.

Fuller was a member of APA early in his career, dropped out for a period, and in 1942 applied for reinstatement as a fellow, which was granted. (This application is in the APA archives.) When the Veterans Administration opened the Tuskegee (Ala.) Hospital to serve black veterans, Fuller was instrumental in recruiting and training black psychiatrists for key positions.

In the early 1970s the APA Black Caucus introduced the Solomon Carter Fuller Award at the APA annual meeting. The first lecture was delivered by the lieutenant governor of California in 1975.

A community mental health center in Boston bears Fuller’s name.

Boston psychiatrist Charles Pinderhughes, M.D., knew Fuller and wrote of him: "This remarkable man on his own initiative achieved excellence in psychiatry and neurology as a clinician, scientist, educator, and scholar at a time when opportunities and recognition. . .were not available to him because of his color." Solomon Carter Fuller was indeed a remarkable man to achieve what he did. ▪

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