African-American Firsts: Science & Medicine

Explore Biography.com’s collection of African-American firsts in science and medicine, including Patricia Bath, the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology and the first African-American female doctor to receive a patent for a medical invention; Daniel Hale Williams, the first person to successfully complete open heart surgery; Mary Mahoney, the first black woman to complete nurse’s training; Edward Alexander Bouchet, the first African American to earn a doctorate from a U.S. university; and Sarah E. Goode, the first African-American woman to receive a United States patent, for her invention of a folding cabinet bed in 1885. Explore full biographies, photo galleries, videos and more, only at Biography.com.

Ben Carson

Ben Carson defended himself against criticism for purchasing a $31,000 dining set for his office to Congress, saying he left details to his wife and staff. Emails from the secretary of housing and urban development seem to contradict his distancing from the purchase.

Madam C.J. Walker

Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, created specialized hair products for African-American hair and was one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire.

Dorothy Johnson Vaughan

Dorothy Johnson Vaughan worked as a mathematician on the SCOUT Launch Vehicle Program that launched America’s first satellites into space.

Garrett Morgan

Garrett Morgan blazed a trail for African-American inventors with his patents, including those for a hair-straightening product, a breathing device, a revamped sewing machine and an improved traffic signal.

Daniel Hale Williams

Daniel Hale Williams was one of the first physicians to perform open-heart surgery in the United States and founded a hospital with an interracial staff.

Ernest Everett Just

Earnest Everett Just was an African-American biologist and educator best known for his pioneering work in the physiology of development, especially in fertilization.

Marie M. Daly

Marie M. Daly is best known for being the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States.

Guion S. Bluford

As a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle ‘Challenger’ in 1983, Guion S. Bluford became the first African American to travel into space.

Frederick Jones

Frederick Jones was an inventor best known for the development of refrigeration equipment used to transport food and blood during World War II.

James West

James West is a U.S. inventor and professor who, in 1962, developed the electret transducer technology later used in 90 percent of contemporary microphones.

Sarah E. Goode

Entrepreneur and inventor Sarah E. Goode was the first African-American woman to receive a United States patent.

Octavia E. Butler

Friday’s Google Doodle celebrated what would have been the 71st birthday of author Octavia E. Butler. Known for such works as ‘Kindred’ and the ‘Parable’ series, she was the first science-fiction writer to receive a “genius” grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

Mae C. Jemison

Mae C. Jemison is the first African-American female astronaut. In 1992, she flew into space aboard the Endeavour, becoming the first African-American woman in space.

Katherine G. Johnson

One of NASA’s human ‘computers,’ Katherine G. Johnson performed the complex calculations that enabled humans to successfully achieve space flight.

Kelly Miller

Mathematician Kelly Miller advanced the intellectual life of African Americans, earning several advanced degrees. He was the first black man to attend Johns Hopkins University.

Evelyn Boyd Granville

The second black woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics, Evelyn Boyd Granville worked on important NASA space programs and became a longtime professor.

John Lee Love

John Lee Love was an African-American inventor best known for patenting a portable pencil sharpener known as the “Love Sharpener.”

Alexa Canady

In 1981, Alexa Canady became the first female African-American neurosurgeon in the United States.

Regina Benjamin

Physician Regina Benjamin worked as the 18th U.S. surgeon general, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009.

Edward Alexander Bouchet

In 1876, Edward Alexander Bouchet became the first African American to earn a doctorate degree in the United States.

Patricia Bath

Among many firsts, Patricia Bath is the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology and the first African-American female doctor to receive a medical patent. She invented the Laserphaco Probe for cataract treatment in 1986.

Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker was a largely self-educated mathematician, astronomer, compiler of almanacs and writer.

Mary Mahoney

Mary Mahoney became the first black woman to complete nurse’s training in 1879.

Marjorie Lee Browne

Marjorie Lee Browne was a prominent mathematician and educator who, in 1949, became only the third African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in her field.

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