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Leonard Medical School

by Elizabeth Reid Murray, 2006

Faculty of Leonard Medical School, ca. 1902. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.The Leonard Medical School, established in Raleigh by Shaw University in 1880, trained more than 400 African American physicians during the nearly 40 years of its existence. Soon after Henry Martin Tupper of Massachusetts, a missionary representing the American Baptist Home Mission Society, founded Shaw in 1865, he cited the need for educating black physicians. Stressing the absence of any institution for their training between Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, he finally persuaded Shaw's trustees to organize a medical department on the Raleigh campus. Partial funding came from the American Baptist Home Mission Society and other northern philanthropists, primarily Judson Wade Leonard, of Hampden, Mass., the brother of Tupper's wife. In his honor the new department was named Leonard Medical School. The site, a square acre at the southeast corner of the antebellum governor's mansion lot, then occupied by Raleigh's Centennial Graded School, was donated by the North Carolina General Assembly.

The Leonard Medical Building, or Leonard Hall, was under construction by the spring of 1881 and opened on 1 November with a faculty of two white Raleigh physicians. Dr. James McKee held the chair of physiology and medical principles and practices, while continuing his own medical practice, and Dr. F. A. Spafford, already a classics professor at Shaw, taught anatomy. As enrollment increased, as many as 23 other members of Raleigh's white medical profession acted as part-time faculty over the life of the school.

Tuition for the initial student body was partially financed by a small endowment and later by the John F. Slater Fund. The students helped reduce their expenses by performing some of the maintenance work in Leonard Hall. Their first-year curriculum of necessity included some preparatory science classes as well as medical courses. By the first graduation, in 1886, Leonard offered a graded program requiring a full four years, thus becoming one of the first four-year medical schools in the nation.

Leonard Medical Building, as pictured in The Baptist Home Mission Monthly, November 1888.Leonard's first graduates included six doctors, all of whom passed their licensing board examinations. Two of them were North Carolinians, and the others were from Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. Two of the six began their medical practice in the state. One of these, class valedictorian Lawson Andrew Scruggs, was resident physician at Leonard Hospital for several years.

Although Leonard continued to graduate well-trained, successful physicians, its limited endowment made it increasingly difficult to expand and keep pace with other black medical schools. Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., and Howard Medical College in Washington, D.C., received much more funding. In Raleigh, Saint Augustine's College completed a massive new three-story building for its St. Agnes Hospital during the 1908-9 academic year.

In 1914 the Shaw trustees shortened the medical curriculum to two years, with the expectation that graduates with bachelor of science in medicine degrees would go on to Meharry or Howard, which were by then receiving considerable Rockefeller funding. Finally, the decision was made to close the school, with the last classes apparently held during 1918-19.

Two structures built for the Leonard Medical School are extant, both on the west side of the 700 block of South Wilmington Street-Leonard Hall and the adjacent Tyler Hall (1910). After the medical school and hospital closed, these structures were used for a variety of purposes. Both buildings are within Raleigh's East Raleigh-South Park Historic District, which was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.


Wilmoth A. Carter, Shaw's Universe: A Monument to Educational Innovation (1973).

Dorothy Long, ed., Medicine in North Carolina: Essays in the History of Medical Science and Medical Service, 1524-1950 (2 vols., 1972).

Todd L. Savitt, "The Education of Black Physicians at Shaw University, 1882-1918," in Jeffrey J. Crow and Flora J. Hatley, eds., Black Americans in North Carolina and the South (1984).

Additional Resources:

"Leonard Medical School" North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program. (accessed July 30, 2012).

Blackburn, Charles, Jr. "Making History." Our State Magazine. September 2006. (accessed July 30, 2012).

Savitt, Todd L. "Medical History: A Medical School for African Americans in 19th Century North Carolina." Department of Medical Humanities Newsletter 2, Number 2. Fall 1999.

Image Credits:

Faculty of Leonard Medical School, ca. 1902. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.

"Leonard Medical Building." Morehouse, L.H. "Descriptive Sketches of Schools Founded and Fostered by the Society with Illustrations of Principal Buildings." The Baptist Home Mission Monthly 10, number 11. November 1888. Page 318.

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Do you have any information on a black Doctor name John Henry Alston? From Columbia, SC, he was on the black colored physican Association in 1904. He was graduated of Leonard medical school.


Hello Linda,

J. H Alston graduated from Leonard in 1894. By 1910 it appears he was based in Wilmington, NC.
Hope this helps,
Elvatrice Belsches, The Leonard Medical and Pharmacy Graduates Project


There seems to be two graduates of Leonard Medical School with the same name of J. H. Alston. John Henry Alston graduated in 1893 and J.H. Alston graduated in 1894 and settled in Wilmington NC. Dr. John Henry Alston is from and settled in Summerville (Dorchester County), SC. His diploma is registered in Berkeley County which encompassed Summerville at the time . Alston School in Summerville, SC was named for him in 1910. He died in 1926, any assistance you can offer in obtaining a picture or photograph of him would be greatly appreciated.


Dear Linda,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia. I am going to forward your request to our reference team.

Francesca Evans, Government & Heritage Library


I have a maternal great grandfather graduated from Leonard Medical School around 1907. If anyone has any pictures of the graduating class I would love to see them. Dr Nathaniel Edward Jackson.


Dear Ms. Garrett,
I have a major yearslong project on the Leonard grads. If my memory serves me correctly, Dr. Jackson founded a hospital.
Does this sound familiar?


Both my paternal and maternal grandfathers were graduates of Leonard Medical School. I have photos of their graduating classes which I am willing to scan in and share on this web site or any other site related to Leonard Medical School


What were your grandfathers' names?


Dear Ms. Pleasant,
I am working on a major project on the Leonard graduates. I would like to honor your grandfathers as part of the project. What were their names?
Thank you!


My paternal grandfather graduated from Leonard Medical School's School of Pharmacy. I am not sure of the date. Trying to find out information about those who have researched the school and who might have a database of graduates and/or attendees.

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