Black History Month – Anderson Ruffin Abbott

Anderson Ruffin Abbott

There are many forgotten heroes of black history in Canada. How many of us were taught about Anderson Ruffin Abbott in our Canadian History classes? I certainly wasn’t. Who is Dr. Abbott? He was the first Canadian-born black doctor.

Dr. Abbott was born into an affluent family in Toronto in 1837. His family had fled the harsh treatment of blacks in the United States of the early 1830s for the much more welcoming conditions in Canada. The Abbotts quickly rose to prominence, and this allowed Anderson Abbott to receive an excellent education.

In 1857, Anderson Ruffin Abbott graduated from the Toronto School of Medicine and continued his studies under Dr. Alexander Thomas Augusta. In 1861, he received a licence to practice from the Medical Board of Upper Canada, thus becoming the first Canadian-born black doctor.

His career tells the story of the times.  He joined the fight against slavery in the US by becoming a civilian surgeon under contract to the Union Army.  During his time in the United States, he became well-known in Washington and was counted among the select group that stood vigil over President Lincoln as he lay dying.

In 1866, he returned to Canada, and in 1871, he was admitted to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.  In 1874, he was appointed coroner for Kent County.  He returned to the US in 1894 when he was appointed as surgeon-in-chief at Provident Hospital in Chicago.  In 1896, the hospital made him medical superintendent.  However, in 1897, he resigned his position and returned to Canada once again.

Dr. Abbott became increasingly dedicated to promoting the idea that the access of blacks to higher education should not be compromised.  He wrote a series of articles and editorials for a number of publications on the subjects of black history, the Civil War, and medicine. His life served as a shining example of what people of colour could accomplish when given the opportunity to achieve.

Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott died in 1913 at the age of 76.

For more on Dr. Anderson, click here.

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