Physician, Dentist, Professor, Pharmacist, Politician, Teacher
Though born into slavery and of an illiterate background, Robert F. Boyd was a prime moving spirit in upholding education and launching medical institutions to offer health care and training for African Americans. This was deemed essential since health is the first requisite for a good life.
Boyd was born in rural Pulaski, Giles County, Tennessee, on July 8, 1855. His slave parents, Maria Cuffey and Edward Boyd, worked at the farm in their rural residence.
They carried his mother, Maria Cuffey, to the South during the American Civil War. In 1866, she went back to bring her two children to Nashville and Boyd to live at Dr. Paul F. Eve’s home. Dr. Paul was an eminent surgeon with an international reputation.
Education and Medical Career
When Boyd stayed with Dr. Eve, he found the inspiration to become a physician. He enrolled in night classes at the Old Fisk School (Fisk University) and desired to become a physician. In 1872, he attended school half-day and worked half-day for James Hickman, a real estate agent.
Because of his exemplary performance, he joined the teaching profession in 1875 while attending college and began teaching in the local schools.
Later on, the “Public School for Negroes” in Pulaski accredited Dr. Boyd. In due course, he opened an adults’ night school.
In 1880, Boyd joined the Central Tennessee College medical department and received honors upon graduating in 1882.
He worked in the medical field and became a school principal in New Albany, Mississippi. Later, he worked at Meharry Medical College as an adjunct professor of chemistry.
He joined the Central Tennessee College dental department and graduated in 1886. Back in Nashville, he worked as Dr. Eve’s assistant surgeon.
Boyd received an office on North Cherry Street in 1887 to practice his profession. He treated patients from diverse socio-economic classes. The mortality rate among Black people was alarming, and he used public conferences and churches to teach Black people ways to combat diseases, especially tuberculosis.
In 1890, Boyd attended the University of Chicago, Postgraduate School of Medicine. He graduated from Central Tennessee College with a Master of Arts degree in 1891. In 1892, he specialized in women’s and children’s diseases at the University of Chicago. He became a gynecology and clinical medicine professor in 1893.
Dr. Boyd started Mercy Hospital at 811 South Cherry Street in 1900. It opened its doors to the black fraternity.
He co-founded the National Medical Association (NMA) for negroes in 1895 in Atlanta, Georgia, and became its first president.
Dr. Boyd held the following positions at the rank of professor at Meharry Medical College: Chemistry (1882-1884), Physiology (1884-1888), Anatomy and Physiology (1888-1889), Physiology and Hygiene (1889-1890), Physiology, Hygiene, and Clinical Medicine (1890-1893), Gynecology and Clinical Medicine (1893-unknown).
Boyd never married. In the 1890s, he bought a three-story brick house on Cedar Street for $14,000. This must have been the most significant real estate ownership by a black person in Tennessee.
Boyd was the president of most societies at Meharry Medical College. He had an active membership in the St. Paul A.M.E. Church, Colored People’s Congress, and London’s Anthropological Society.
Boyd had political interests, and, in 1893, he ran for a mayor’s rank and a seat in the Tennessee General Assembly as a Republican.
Boyd performed other roles outside medicine because of his superior position in society. In 1909, he became the president of People’s Savings Bank and Trust Company, the second Black-owned bank in Nashville.
Alarmed by the high mortality rate among African Americans compared to their white counterparts, Dr. Boyd was compelled to study and publish some of his observations in his quest to establish the reasons for the high mortality among blacks in the South and how to lessen it.
Boyd’s untimely demise occurred on July 20, 1912, at age 57. Reports show he died because of acute indigestion. His funeral ceremony took place in the Ryman Auditorium, and his body was buried in Mt. Ararat Cemetery in Nashville.
Dr. Boyd featured prominently in the fight for justice in healthcare in the United States of America. Research shows that chronic diseases and higher mortality rates affect more blacks and other minorities throughout the U.S. Dr. Boyd steered the fight against discrimination in healthcare and medicine, but the battle for equity continues.
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