William Augustus Hinton Biography (1883-1959)

African American
medical researcher

William Augustus Hinton was the first black professor at Harvard Medical School, where he taught preventative medicine and hygiene, as well as bacteriology and immunology. He earned an international reputation as a medical researcher with his work on the detection and treatment of syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases. He was integral in developing two common diagnostic procedures for syphilis, the Hinton test and the Davies-Hinton test.

Hinton was born on December 15, 1883, in Chicago, Illinois. His parents wereAugustus Hinton and Maria Clark, both former slaves. Hinton grew up in Kansasand became the youngest student to ever graduate from Kansas City High School. After high school, he studied at the University of Kansas, completing thethree-year premed program in two years. Hinton did some additional undergraduate work at Harvard University and received his B.S. there in 1905.

After graduation, Hinton spent some time working in a law office, but, as hereported in Twenty-fifth Anniversary Report--Harvard Class of 1905, he "discovered that legal appetite can't always be cultivated." Instead of pursuing work in law, Hinton turned to education, teaching science at Waldo University in Tennessee from 1905 to 1906 and at State School in Langston, Oklahoma, from 1906 to 1909. It was during this time--in Langston--that Hinton metand married Ada Hawes, a teacher, in 1909. They subsequently had two daughters, Ann and Jane.

In 1909, Hinton entered Harvard Medical School. Though offered a scholarshipreserved for African American students, Hinton instead chose to compete for ascholarship offered to all students. He won the Wigglesworth scholarship twoyears in a row . By skipping the second year of school and finishing the Harvard medical program in only three years, Hinton received his M.D. in 1912.

After graduating, Hinton's first job was as a serologist at the Wassermann Laboratory of the Harvard Medical School. By 1915, he was named the director ofthe lab, which at the time had become the official lab for the MassachusettsState Department of Public Health. In 1916, Hinton also became chief of thelaboratory department at the Boston Dispensary. One of his accomplishments there was developing a program to train women as lab technicians, a professionthat at the time was not generally open to women.

From the start of his career until his retirement, his attention was directedtoward "syphilis and the laboratory tests used in connection with its diagnosis and treatment," Hinton reported in Fiftieth Anniversary Report--Harvard Class of 1905. In 1927, Hinton developed a test--subsequently known as the Hinton test--to diagnose syphilis. Because it was easier, less expensive, and more accurate than previously used tests, the Hinton test was adoptedas standard procedure for diagnosing syphilis. Later, with Dr. J. A. V. Davies , Hinton developed another diagnostic test for syphilis, know as the Davies-Hinton test .

Hinton began teaching at Harvard Medical School in 1923, as assistant lecturer in preventive medicine and hygiene. He continued teaching for 27 years. Hinton wrote one book during his career-- Syphilis and Its Treatment, published in 1936. At the time, the book was considered controversial. In Fiftieth Anniversary Report--Harvard Class of 1905, Hinton wrote that thebook contained "specific ways in which laboratory tests for syphilis shouldbe used correctly." Though the book had "little support" at first, by 1955 Hinton noted that "except where new and superior drugs have replaced those thenin use, most of it has been recognized." The Harvard Medical Alumni Bulletin of July 1959, in fact, described the book as "widely acclaimed." Inan interview with the Boston Daily Globe in 1952, Hinton told reporter Frances Burns that he considered the book his most important contributionbecause it summed up both his research and the experience he gained throughpatients in clinics who had syphilis. "I had learned that race was not the determining factor but that it was, rather, the socioeconomic condition of thepatient," he told Burns. "It is a disease of the underprivileged."

In addition to his work as a researcher, Hinton was a special consultant to the U.S. Public Health Service and, beginning in 1936, chief of the labs of the Boston Floating Hospital. He also taught at both Tufts University and Simmons College. In 1940, Hinton lost a leg in a car accident. This disability, however, did not keep him from teaching. In fact, in 1949, Harvard appointed Hinton clinical professor of bacteriology and immunology. He was the school's first black professor. Hinton retired one year later, in 1950. According to the Boston Daily Globe, however, he continued to teach without a salary. Hinton retired from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Wassermann Laboratory in 1953.

At home, Hinton's hobbies were gardening and making furniture. He died at theage of 75 on August 8, 1959, in Canton, Massachusetts.

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