In honor of Black History Month, every day this month I am going to highlight one African American woman who broke down barriers in a STEM field.
February 2, 2019: Eliza Ann Grier, Physician
This is Eliza Ann Grier, born in 1864 in North Carolina into slavery. Mecklenburg, North Carolina delayed freeing their slaves after the Emancipation Proclamation due to no presence of the Union Army in that area at the time. Eliza grew up picking cotton, and her family relocated from North Carolina to Tennessee, where Eliza would eventually enroll in college.
In 1884, a free woman, Eliza enrolled in the Normal Department at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. It took seven years for Eliza to finish school at Fisk, due to alternating a year of school with a year of harvesting cotton. However, a university degree was not enough for Eliza; she wished to do more for her community as a doctor. In 1890, Eliza wrote an application to the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, and despite not having any funds or requisite background, she was accepted into their medical program. After another seven years of alternating school with picking cotton, Eliza successfully graduated as one of the first black women physicians in the country in 1897.
With her medical degree in hand, Eliza applied for a license to practice medicine in Georgia, and being granted such license, Eliza Ann Grier became the first African American female doctor in the state of Georgia.
Eliza passed away just a few short years later, in 1902. However, she forged a path for African American physicians and women who wished to pursue medicine careers. Fighting against segregation and Jim Crow laws, Eliza and other black physicians formed professional societies, founded hospitals, and created educational institutions. She worked tirelessly with other physicians in her community to improve health and hygiene for the African Americans in the rural south.