James McCune Smith United States

Biography of James McCune Smith

James McCune Smith
James McCune Smith

James McCune Smith graduated from the University BA in 1835, MA in 1836, and MD in 1837, making him the first African American to receive a university medical degree.

Born a slave in 1813 in New York City, but liberated by the New York State's Emancipation Act of 1827, Smith was denied admission to Universities in the US on account of his race despite being acknowledged as a student of great potential. Accepted by the University of Glasgow, Smith matriculated at the University in 1832. He attended classes such as the Greek class of Daniel Keyte Sandford in 1832-33; the Anatomy classes of Professor James Jeffray in 1833-34; and Medicine and Surgery classes in 1835. Smith's studies were funded in part by the Glasgow Emancipation Society, of which he became an active member. Influenced by the legacies of Scottish Enlightenment thought, Smith returned to New York in 1837.

Dr Smith opened his own practice and pharmacy, noted to be the first African American owned and operated pharmacy in America, where he treated both black and white patients. Smith would eventually become the proprietor of two pharmacies and would continue to practice medicine for 25 years.

Not only a successful physician, Smith became a great abolitionist and educator, and has been recognised as one of the foremost black intellectuals in nineteenth-century America.

Dr Smith died of heart disease in 1865.


Other Online Resources

Printed Materials

  • J. Stauffer, The Works of James McCune Smith:Black Intellectual and Abolitionist, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. xix-xxiii

Archival Materials

  • GUA26005 Matriculation Album 1810-1854, p.227
  • Johnston R McKay, James McCune Smith of New York, College Courant, Vol23, No.47, 1971, p.26-27


James McCune Smith
Born 18 April 1813.
Died 17 November 1865.
GU Degrees: BA, 1835; MA, 1836; MD, 1837;
University Link: Alumnus, Graduate
Occupation categories: physicians
English snippet: First African American to receive a university medical degree, an abolitionist, educator and physician
Record last updated: 2nd Nov 2015

Country Associations

United States United States, New York
Place of Birth

United States United States, Long Island
Place of Death

University Connections

University Roles