Eliza Ann Grier: Formerly Enslaved Woman Who Got Her M.D. And Became The First Black Woman To Practice Medicine In Georgia In 1898

Eliza Ann Grier, born enslaved in North Carolina, got her M.D. and became Georgia’s first Black woman physician in 1898. Her bachelor’s degree in education from Fisk University took her eight years to complete because she took every other year off to pick cotton and do other chores to pay for her tuition to continue her studies.

Eliza Ann Grier was born in 1864 as an enslaved woman in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Grier went on to get her M.D. and became the first African American woman to practice medicine in Georgia in 1898. Grier enrolled at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, over 20 years after her freedom, with the intention of becoming a teacher.

Grier graduated from the university with a degree in education eight years later, in 1891. It took her so long because she took a year off every other year to pick cotton and do other odd jobs to pay for her tuition so she could continue her education.

Grier opted to pursue a career in medicine shortly after graduating from Fisk. Grier requested information on tuition and the potential of pursuing advanced medical study in a letter to the Dean of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Grier expressed an interest in pursuing a career as a doctor.

Grier believed that as a physician, rather than as a teacher, she could better serve her people. She hoped to be accepted as well as receive financial aid. However, despite her admission, she received little assistance, pushing her to return to the technique she used at Fisk, working and studying alternately for eight years until she completed her medical degree.

Dr. Eliza Grier moved to Atlanta, Georgia in 1897 after graduating from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. “I traveled to Philadelphia, studied medicine hard, obtained my degree, and have returned to Atlanta, where I have lived all my life, to practice my profession,” she wrote in 1898. Some of the city’s greatest white doctors have welcomed me and promised to give me an equal shot in the profession. “All I ask is for you to do that.”

Grier, on the other hand, relocated her practice to Greenville, South Carolina in 1899, where she focused on obstetrics and gynecology. She caught influenza in 1901 and was unable to attend patients for six weeks. Dr. Grier, facing the loss of her practice, wrote Susan B. Anthony a letter requesting financial aid. The suffragist was unable to assist her, but she conveyed her plea to the Woman’s Medical College with sympathy. It is unknown whether the College assisted.

Grier later went to Albany, Georgia in 1901, but after eight years of studying to become a physician, she died in 1902 at the age of 38, after only five years of practice. In Charlotte, North Carolina, she was laid to rest.

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