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News | Feb. 1, 2023

Exhibit at Walter Reed Highlights African Americans in Civil War Medicine

To kick off Black History Month, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center welcomes Dr. Robert Slawson, from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, as a guest docent Feb. 2 for an exhibit highlighting the contributions of African Americans in Civil War medicine. The exhibit is on display throughout February on the first floor of the America Building (Bldg. 19).

Slawson will be available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 2 to walk viewers through the exhibit and answer questions they may have regarding the exhibit or the participation of African Americans in medicine during the Civil War.

A retired oncologist, Slawson began writing books about black men and women who practiced medicine during the Civil War after attending a 2004 lecture focused on African American physicians in the war. He said many people do not realize there was a significant African American presence in medicine at that time. He now volunteers at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, located in Frederick, Maryland.

The exhibit, titled “Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries: African Americans in Civil War Medicine,” comes to WRNMMC from the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).

“I found out about this program as an associate fellow at NLM (2018-2019),” said Sarah Clarke, medical librarian at WRNMMC Darnall Medical Library. “One of my colleagues, Michele Mason-Coles, was also a NLM associate fellow, so our library has a great relationship with NLM and are happy to be hosting this exhibit.”

Clarke also serves as assistant professor of medicine for the Uniformed Services University’s F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine.

“Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries: African Americans in Civil War Medicine” looks at the men and women who served as surgeons and nurses and how their work as medical providers challenged the prescribed notions of race and gender. Some of those highlighted in the exhibit include: Susie King Taylor, known for being the first Black nurse during the American Civil War; Dr. Alexander Thomas Augusta, the Union Army’s first Black physician; Dr. Charles Purvis, an assistant surgeon during the Civil War, and the first Black man to run a civilian hospital and the first Black doctor to treat a sitting president when he tended to President James Garfield in 1881; and Dr. William P. Powell Jr., the first African American physicians to receive a contract as a surgeon with the Union army.

To explore the exhibit online, visit
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