Reference Entry

Meharry Medical College.

Anja Becker

in Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present: From the Age of Segregation to the Twenty-first Century

Published in print January 2009 | ISBN: 9780195167795
Meharry Medical College.

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Located near Fisk University in the north of Nashville, Tennessee, Meharry Medical College is a private, historically black college of medicine, dentistry, and health sciences. Founded in 1876, it started out as the medical department of Central Tennessee College, an institution that, by then reorganized as Walden University, ceased to exist in the 1920s. Meharry was chartered in 1915 as a secular, independent medical college.Since its founding, Meharry has served minorities and underserved communities and offered opportunity to low-income and high-risk students. The earliest Meharry graduates had seen connections among social and economic circumstances, education, and the higher mortality rates in black communities. Michael J. Brent, class of 1921, presented the first thorough study of rural Tennessee that supported this notion. By the 1960s, as African Americans continued to be more vulnerable to disease than whites, researchers at Meharry continued to tie the physical and intellectual growth of young black people to social and economic factors, also studying the phenomenon in cooperation with, for example, Fisk.Nashville had been an unsanitary Moloch since the end of the Civil War, with a large population of freedmen from across the South. Nashville led in U.S. mortality rates generally, but its death rates among African Americans were particularly high; few African Americans could afford white doctors willing to examine them. In this atmosphere, five white Methodist brothers named Meharry provided funding for a medical department at Central Tennessee College, which the Nashville chapter of the Freedmen's Aid Society, organized by the Methodist Episcopal Church in Cincinnati in 1866, had opened in 1868.Meharry's early student body comprised former slaves and their descendants; some of the early African Americans who shaped the institution remain nameless. The early Meharry leadership was mainly white. By the turn of the twentieth century Meharry was hiring its own graduates. In the 1890s it was more didactic than white schools that benefited directly and to a greater degree from Europe's new approaches to medical education. Moreover, white Nashville hospitals did not accept Meharry students as interns.Nonetheless, in his 1910 report Medical Education in the United States and in Canada, Abraham Flexner, an educator interested in medical education who later became associated with the Carnegie Foundation and also served as secretary of the General Education Board (1913–1928), argued that Meharry was “worth developing.” Some of its problems were solved when Hubbard Hospital opened in the 1910s in Meharry's black neighborhood. By the 1920s, scholarships such as Julius Rosenwald fellowships allowed Meharrians to gain experiences at prestigious schools in the North. In 1931, Meharry moved into three modern brick buildings in north Nashville, its current location. New hospital buildings were erected in the early 1970s.The earliest women enrolled in nursing in 1879. Only in 1893 did the first woman, Annie D. Gregg, earn a medical degree. Georgia Esther Lee Patton Washington was the first black woman to receive a license to practice medicine and surgery in Tennessee. She went to Africa shortly after her graduation from Meharry. Josie E. Well, class of 1904, was the first woman to teach and to attain a leadership position at Meharry. Hulda M. Lyttle became the first “Negro dean” of nursing in the United States, retiring in 1943. By 1970, one out of five Meharry students was a woman.Most students after World War II were from the South; they had received their previous education from poor, legally segregated schools, which accounted for their deficiencies in verbal ability, general information, ability to perform arithmetic processes, and mechanical skill. But Meharrians were becoming increasingly self-conscious, also participating in Nashville's civil rights movement. In the mid-1960s the student body also became more international.Over the years Meharry's leadership changed, too. Several Meharry presidents have had missionary and international experience. Until 1950, Meharry presidents were white. The first president, George W. Hubbard, was succeeded in 1921 by John J. Mullowney; he was followed by Edward L. Turner and M. Don Clawson. After Clawson's resignation, a committee of three white and two black men headed the school for two years. One of them was Harold Dadford West, who in 1952 became the first of Meharry's succession of African American presidents. Lloyd Elam, the first Meharry president from the Deep South, succeeded West in 1967. He was himself succeeded by the interim president Richard G. Lester, followed by David Satcher, John E. Maupin Jr., and, since 2007, Wayne J. Riley.Meharry desegregated in 1957 prior to the hot phase of the civil rights movement. By the early twenty-first century 20 percent of its students and 40 percent of its faculty were not African American. Of all black physicians and dentists practicing in the United States, nearly 40 percent are Meharrians.

Reference Entry.  908 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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