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First black to graduate medical school did so in Chicago in 1847

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of Black History Month highlights of prominent African Americans and important events.

In 1847, abolitionist Dr. David Jones Peck became the first African American to receive a degree from a U.S. medical school — earning it here at Rush Medical College.

Peck was born a free man in Pittsburgh around 1826, the son of abolitionist minister John Peck.

When he was about 20, Peck was taught medicine by Dr. Joseph P. Gazzam, a white physician.

In 1846, he enrolled in what is now Rush University Medical Center and graduated with a medical degree a year later. After graduating, Peck traveled to Ohio with such prominent abolitionists as William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass in support of the anti-slavery movement.

At the urging of friend and African-American physician Dr. Martin R. Delany, who promoted the idea of free blacks settling in Central America, Peck traveled to Nicaragua. He remained there until 1855, but accounts of his life after that date conflict. How and when Peck died is unknown.

In 1984, Rush created a memorial in honor of his achievements.

Mariann Devlin

Sources: Metro Chicago Almanac, University of Pittsburgh

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