Social, Economic, & Political Leadership — Charleston, SC

The Legacy of Dr. Lucy Hughes Brown

Dr. Lucy Hughes Brown (1863-1911) was the first African-American woman doctor licensed in the states of North and South Carolina.  She was also the first woman doctor to practice in Charleston, and a co-founder of the Cannon Street Hospital and Training School for Nurses.

Born in Mebanesville, NC, to “poor parents,” Lucy Hughes was one of eight children. She taught school, married the Rev. David Brown and then entered the Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia. This school was one of the earliest colleges in the world authorized to award MDs to women. Dr. Brown graduated in 1894 and practiced medicine in North Carolina for two years before she and her husband moved here. 

Dr. Lucy Hughes Brown (1863-1911) was the first African-American woman doctor licensed in the states of North and South Carolina. 

First graduating class of the Hospital and Training School for Nurses | Courtesy of MUSC

At that time, African-American doctors in Charleston wanted to train black nurses in the city’s public institutions and wards. Their efforts were rejected. Thus Dr. Alonzo McClennan, Dr. Lucy Brown and other black physicians, determined to establish an institution for the “care of the colored sick” where nurses could be educated. The Cannon Street Hospital and Training School for Nurses was established in 1897. This was the very first hospital in South Carolina with a nurses’ training school and the ninth black institution of its kind in the country.

The Hospital Herald, the official publication of the Association of Colored Physicians of South Carolina, describes the educational program. One entry by Dr. Brown for the “Department of Nurse Training” advised student nurses that excellent nursing balanced textbook knowledge, kindness, “great adaptability, good judgement (sic)…and a willingness to do work outside the usual line.” And work the women did. They were hired out to both black and white families, while the fees were collected by the hospital. Student nurses maintained the building, cared for the patients, cooked, washed the laundry, managed the poultry farm, and tended the vegetable garden.  One group of student nurses organized the “Gatling Guns,” giving dance performances at local events. With the money raised, they presented a much-needed operating table to the hospital.

The hospital and nurses’ training school, which Dr. Alfonso McClellan, Dr. Lucy Brown, and African-American physicians founded, became McClennan-Banks Memorial Hospital. That institution closed in 1976.  


Ruth M. Miller

Ruth M. Miller is a public historian and storyteller. A former high school teacher, for the last forty years she has been delving into the history of Charleston and the Carolina LowCountry. She shares her discoveries as a certified tour guide for the City of Charleston, a speaker and author. Ruth ties the history of this city and the Carolina LowCountry into the American story and worldwide events. Her publications include Slavery to Civil Rights: A Walking Tour of African-American Charleston.