Science - Technology

Eliza Ann Grier

Eliza Ann Grier was an extraordinary woman who overcame slavery, poverty and racism to become the first African American woman licensed to practice medicine in Georgia. She dedicated her life to helping others, especially women and children, in her community. Grier was born in 1864 in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, to Emily and George Washington Grier, who were enslaved. She was freed at the end of the Civil War, when she was only a baby. She moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend Fisk University, a historically black college, where she studied to become a teacher. She graduated in 1891, after working every other year to pay for her tuition.

Grier had a passion for medicine and wanted to serve her race by becoming a doctor. She applied to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, one of the few medical schools that accepted women at the time. She explained in a letter that she had no money and asked if there was any way for an emancipated slave to receive help into such a lofty profession. She was accepted into the college in 1893 and continued to work as a cotton picker every other year to afford her education. It took her seven years to complete her medical degree.

In 1897, Grier moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where she applied for a license to practice medicine in Fulton County. She became the first African American woman to hold a medical license in the state of Georgia. She opened a private practice in Atlanta, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. She said, “When I saw colored women doing all the work in cases of accouchement childbirth, and all the fee going to some white doctor who merely looked on, I asked myself why should I not get the fee myself.  Some of the best white doctors in the city have welcomed me, and say that they will give me an even chance in the profession. That is all I ask.”

Grier faced many challenges and hardships in her career. She struggled to build a private practice and had to supplement her income with teaching jobs. She also faced discrimination and prejudice from some white doctors and patients who refused to accept her as a qualified physician. She fell ill in 1901 and was unable to work. She wrote to suffragist Susan B. Anthony to request help with her financial troubles. Anthony did not help Grier financially, but did contact Woman’s Medical College on her behalf.

Grier died in 1902 in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the age of 38. She left behind a legacy of courage, perseverance and excellence. She was a pioneer for African American women in medicine and an inspiration for generations to come.

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