Massachusetts Medical Society: MMS Honors Its First Black Doctor

MMS Honors Its First Black Doctor

John DeGrasse, MD
Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society

In recognition of Black History Month, the MMS is honoring Dr. John Van Surly DeGrasse, the first black doctor to join a US medical society. In 1854, Dr. DeGrasse was admitted to the Massachusetts Medical Society. Five years earlier, he had graduated from Bowdoin College’s Medical School of Maine, becoming the second African American to receive a medical degree. Dr. DeGrasse will be commemorated with a forthcoming plaque in the first-floor lobby at MMS Headquarters, Waltham.

Dr. DeGrasse, an active abolitionist, was involved in intercepting slave hunters in Boston after the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law passed. In 1864, he was commissioned as an officer and assistant surgeon with the 35th United States Colored Infantry. Dr. DeGrasse was the sole black surgeon to serve with his regiment in South Carolina, and one of eight who served in the Union forces. He subsequently was honored with a gold-hilted sword by John Andrew, governor of Massachusetts from 1861 to 1866.

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