Black History: Special Delivery!!
Dr. Solomon Fuller (1889-1953) was the first black psychiatrist in the United States. Fuller conducted pioneering research on dementia and Alzheimers. Fuller also served as a professor at Boston University School of Medicine for 30+ years.
Fuller was born in Monrovia, Liberia. At the age of 17, he left Liberia to further his education at Livingstone College in North Carolina. Fuller graduated in 1893 and began his medical studies at Long Island College Hospital. He later transferred to Boston University School of Medicine and obtained his M.D. degree in 1897. After graduation, Fuller accepted a position at West Borough State Hospital in Massachusetts. Fuller also joined the medical faculty at Boston University School of Medicine where he taught for 34 years.
He decided to pursue a career in neurology and psychiatry after hearing a lecture by neurologist S. Weir Mitchell. In the speech, Mitchell was critical of hospitals for not studying mental illness. Mitchell also challenged hospitals to further study both pathology and psychology of patients. After hearing the lecture, Fuller began to analyze data on his patients who had mental disorders. Fuller traveled to Europe in 1904 and studied under Emil Kraepelin and Alois Alzheimer at the University of Munich’s psychiatric clinic. Upon his return, he continued working at Westborough Hospital and Boston University Medical School.
Fuller would become known for his work on Alzheimer’s Disease. Alzheimers is a degenerative neurological condition which impacts memory, judgment and the ability to reason. Part of his responsibilities included performing autopsies which was considered to be an unusual procedure at that time. This allowed him to contribute to the medical advancements being made involving Alzheimer’s Disease.
Fuller received training from Alois Alzheimer at the University of Munich in Germany. While there he was able to participate in groundbreaking research with the physician Dr Alzheimer who is credited with discovering the disease.
He faced discrimination throughout his career at times being underemployed and underpaid. Fuller is credited with assisting in the development of the neuropsychiatric unit at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Tuskegee, AL. Fuller was also recognized as an expert in the study o syphilis. He assisted with accurately diagnosing World War II black soldiers who had been misdiagnosed. Even though he lost his sight later in life, he continued to see patients. He was truly a pioneer!
Fuller died in 1953.