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Charles B. Purvis

AKA Charles Burleigh Purvis

Born: 14-Apr-1842
Birthplace: Philadelphia, PA
Died: 14-Dec-1929
Location of death: Los Angeles, CA
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Unitarian
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Doctor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Pioneering African-American physician

Military service: US Army (1863-69, to First Lieutenant)

Charles B. Purvis was one of the first African-American physicians trained in a college setting. He worked as a Union surgeon during the American Civil War, then taught medicine for several decades at Howard University. Due to the University's financial shortcomings, his position at Howard was unpaid from 1873 to 1907, and he supported himself by private medical practice. On 2 July 1881, Purvis happened to be nearby when President James Garfield was shot twice by Charles Guiteau. Despite the strict segregation of his era, Dr Purvis was "allowed" to offer medical services until white doctors arrived at the scene, thus becoming the first African-American to provide medical care for an American President. (Garfield lingered for more than two months before dying.)

From 1883-93 he was chief surgeon at Freedman's Hospital, a medical facility for colored patients and affiliated with Howard University, making Purvis the first African-American to head a civilian hospital in America. Still, he was denied membership in the American Medical Association on account of his race. Like his friend Frederick Douglass, Purvis drew additional controversy by marrying a white woman. They were married more than twenty-five years and had two children, and several years after her death Purvis remarried, to another white woman.

His father, Robert Purvis, was co-founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society and founder of the Library Company of Colored People. His mother, Harriet Forten Purvis, was a well-known anti-slavery and women's rights advocate, and a prominent member of the Female Vigilant Society, a group which provided for escaped slaves.

Father: Robert Purvis (abolitionist, b. 1810, d. 1898)
Mother: Harriet Forten Purvis (abolitionist, b. 1810, d. 1875)
Brother: William P. Purvis (b. 1832, d. 1857)
Brother: Robert Purvis, Jr. (b. 1834, d. 1862)
Brother: Joseph Parrish Purvis (b. 1836, d. 1851)
Sister: Harriet Purvis (b. 1839, d. 1905)
Brother: Henry William Purvis (b. 1844, d. 1907)
Brother: Granville Sharp Purvis (b. 1846, d. 1907)
Sister: Georgianna Purvis (b. 1848, d. 1877)
Wife: Ann Hathaway Purvis (m. 1871, d. 1898)
Daughter: Alice Ann Purvis Robie (physician, b. 1872)
Son: Robert Purvis (dentist, b. 1873)

    University: BS, Oberlin College (1863)
    Medical School: Case Western Reserve University (1865)
    Teacher: Medicine, Howard University (1869-71)
    Professor: Medicine, Howard University (1871-72)
    Professor: Obstetrics & Gynecology, Howard University (1872-1907)
    Administrator: Trustee, Howard University (1907-26)

    US Official Colored Person's Surgeon, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (1865-67)


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