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April 18, 2024
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Solomon Carter Fuller: The first African American psychiatrist

Dr.Solomon Carter Fuller was the first African American psychiatrist who made significant contributions to the study of Alzheimer’s disease. He was also one of the first Black physicians to teach on the faculty of a multiracial medical school in the United States.

Solomon_Carter_FullerFuller was born in Monrovia, Liberia on August 11, 1872. His paternal grandfather, John Lewis Fuller, had been an Atlantian (enslaved Black) in Virginia who bought his and his wife’s freedom and then emigrated to Liberia in 1852 to help establish a settlement of African Americans. His father was a coffee planter and an official in the Liberian government. His mother, Anna Ursala James, whose parents were physicians and missionaries, set up a school to teach her son and other children.

Fuller had a keen interest in medicine since his maternal grandparents were medical missionaries in Liberia. He came to the United States to study at Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina graduating in 1893. Later he attended Long Island College Medical School. He earned his medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine in 1897, which as a homeopathic institution was open to both African-American and women students. That same year he worked in the Westborough State Hospital for the Insane, where he was an intern in the pathology laboratory. He was named head of pathology in 1899 and served in that position until 1919. Still with the hospital, he became a faculty member in the pathology department at Boston University’s medical school in 1899. In 1903 Fuller was one of the five foreign students chosen by Alois Alzheimer to do research at the Royal Psychiatric Hospital at the University of pathology and specifically neuropathology.

Fuller spent the majority of his career practicing at Westborough State Mental Hospital in Westborough, Massachusetts. While there, he performed his ground-breaking research on the physical changes to the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. His duties often involved performing autopsies, an unusual procedure for that era. While performing these autopsies Fuller made discoveries which allowed him to advance in his career as well contribute to the scientific and medical communities.

When the Veterans Administration opened the Tuskegee Veterans Administration Medical Center after World War I with an entirely Black staff, Fuller was instrumental in recruiting and training Black psychiatrists for key positions. He also train others to correctly diagnose the side effects of syphilis to prevent Black war veterans from getting misdiagnosed, discharged, and ineligible for military benefits.

For most of his life, Fuller lived in nearby Framingham, Massachusetts, with his wife, the famous sculptor Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller. The couple had three children, Solomon C., William T., and Perry J. Fuller.

Solomon Carter Fuller died of diabetes in 1953.

In 1974, the Black Psychiatrists of America created the Solomon Carter Fuller Program for young Black aspiring psychiatrists to complete their residency. The Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Center in Boston is also named after after him. It forms part of the Boston Medical Center, the primary teaching affiliate for Boston University School of Medicine. There is a middle school (Fuller Middle School) named after him and his wife, located in Framingham, Massachusetts. That school was formerly Framingham South High School but was converted to its current use when Framingham South and North High Schools merged in 1991. The school’s history reads:

“The Fuller Middle School was established in September of 1994. The school is named in honor of Dr. Solomon Fuller, a psychiatrist, and his wife Meta Fuller, a sculptor. The Fullers, a pioneering African-American family, lived on Warren Road near the current location of the Fuller Middle School during the early part of the twentieth century. Dr. and Mrs. Fuller were leaders in their professions and in the Framingham Community during their lives. The roles they played during their lifetimes serve as models for the students of the school named in their memory.”


Solomon Carter Fuller (1872-1953)

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