Solomon Fuller Biography (1872-1953)
- Liberian, African American
- neurologist, psychiatrist
Solomon Fuller, the first black psychiatrist in the United States, played a key role in the development of psychiatry in the 1900s. Known for his researchon dementia, Fuller helped make the United States the leader in psychiatry that it is today. In addition, as a professor at Boston University School of Medicine for more than 30 years, Fuller helped train the next generation of psychiatrists.
Solomon Carter Fuller was born on August 11, 1872 in Monrovia, Liberia. His family, however, had American roots; his grandfather, John Lewis Fuller, had been a slave in Virginia who had been able to buy his freedom and move his family to Liberia. Solomon's father, also named Solomon, was a coffee planter and an official in the Liberian government. His mother, Anna Ursala James, whose parents were physicians and missionaries, set up a school to teach Carter and other area children. Fuller's early education also included six years--from age 10 to 16--at the College Preparatory School of Monrovia.
In 1889, at the age of 17, Fuller left Liberia to attend Livingstone Collegein North Carolina. He graduated in 1893, began studying medicine at Long Island College Hospital, and later transferred to Boston University School of Medicine. Fuller received his M.D. degree in 1897. Upon graduation, Fuller accepted a position as intern and official helper in the pathology lab at Westborough State Hospital in Massachusetts. After two years he was promoted to pathologist, a position in which he remained for 22 years. Fuller was also a consultant to the hospital for an additional 23 years.
At the same time that he was beginning his career in medicine, Fuller also became a member of the medical faculty at Boston University School of Medicine.He taught at BUSM for 34 years, becoming, in turn, an instructor, lecturer,associate professor, and emeritus professor of neurology.
According to Robert H. Sharpley in George E. Gifford, Jr.'s Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, and the New England Medical Scene, 1844-1944, Fuller's decision to pursue a career in neurology and psychiatry was influenced by a lecture at the American Medico-Psychological Association given by neurologist S. Weir Mitchell. According to Sharpley, Mitchell, in his lecture, criticizedhospitals for not studying mental illness. In addition, he called forhospitals to study both the pathology and psychology of their patients. Fuller followed Mitchell's advice by collecting and analyzing data on patients with various mental disorders, Sharpley says. To further his knowledge, in 1900Fuller took advanced courses at the Carnegie Laboratory in New York. He thenwent to Europe in 1904, studying under Emil Kraepelin and Alois Alzheimer, professors at the University of Munich's psychiatric clinic. Once back in the United States, Fuller continued his work at Westborough and BUSM. Fuller became known for his work on Alzheimer's disease, a degenerative neurological disorder in which memory, judgment, and the ability to reason progressively deteriorate. He also focused his research on the organic causes of disorders such as schizophrenia and manic-depressive psychosis (now called bipolar disorder). Finally, Fuller practiced psychiatry, which he continued past his retirement.
Fuller helped develop the neuropsychiatric unit at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama, personally training the doctors who went onto head the department. According to Sharpley, Fuller's knowledge of the venereal disease, syphilis later helped these doctors diagnose syphilis inblack World War II veterans who had been misdiagnosed with behavioral disorders.
In 1909 Fuller married Meta Vaux Warrick, a sculptor who had at one point studied under Rodin. Fuller and his wife had three sons. In his personal life, Fuller enjoyed photography, gardening, and book binding. Though he became blind in his later years, by all reports he continued to work, seeing patients and reading via "talking books." Fuller died on January 16, 1953. Though Fullerhated being called "an excellent black psychiatrist," he is remembered to this day both for his work and for his pioneering role as the first black psychiatrist. The mental health facility at Boston University is now officially known as the Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Center. And in 1972, the American Psychiatric Association and the Black Psychiatrists of America established the Solomon Carter Fuller Institute.