In African American Medicine in Washington, D.C: Healing the Capital During the Civil War Era, Heather Butts ’94 chronicles the largely unsung service of African American health care workers during the Civil War.
Obtaining health care training was a difficult task for African Americans. Alexander Augusta learned to read in secret and had to leave the United States to study at a medical school in Canada, Butts writes. Augusta wrote to President Abraham Lincoln and the secretary of war, seeking an appointment as a physician in an African American regiment, and eventually was appointed surgeon of the United States Colored Troops. But even as he provided care for soldiers, Augusta faced racism. While traveling from the D.C. area to Philadelphia, he was surrounded by an angry mob that threatened his life.
Butts, who teaches bioethics and public health law at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, tells the stories of more than a dozen African American health care workers in the book, which is illustrated with black and white photos from the period.
After the war, many of the workers continued to contribute their services in the medical field. Augusta went on to work in the medical department of Howard University, where he was the first African American to be offered a teaching position at a medical school in the country.