African-American Pioneers in Science

Charles Richard Drew (1904 - 1950)

Charles Richard Drew Photo

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Physician and Surgeon


Washington D.C.


Amherst College
M.D. and Master of Surgery, McGill University
Sc.D., Columbia University

  • Charles Richard Drew
  • African-American pioneer in Medicine
  • First African-American to receive Doctor of Science degree from Columbia University
  • Pioneering blood plasma scientist
  • Established the first large scale blood bank program in the U.S.

Dr. Charles Richard Drew was born on June 3, 1904 in Washington D.C. His father, Richard, was a carpet layer and mother, Nora Burrell, a school teacher. Drew grew up in Washington D.C and attended Dunbar High School where he graduated in 1922. Drew went on to attend Amherst College in Massachusetts on a sports scholarship and earned a Bachelors Degree in 1926. In 1928, he enrolled at McGill University (Montreal, Canada) to study medical science. While at McGill, Drew became a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, an honors medical society. In 1933, he graduated from McGill, earning both an M.D. and a Master of Surgery degree. Following graduation, Dr. Drew completed his internship and residency in 1935 at Royal Victoria Hospital and Montreal General Hospital.

In 1938, Dr. Drew enrolled at Columbia University after receiving a Rockefeller Fellowship and trained at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. Dr. Drew received a Doctor of Science degree from Columbia in 1940 following his breakthrough research in blood plasma that led to the development of a method for the processing and preservation of blood plasma. Dr. Drew became the first African-American to receive a Doctor of Science (Sc.D.) degree from Columbia.

In 1940, Dr. Drew was recruited to head a medical program known as "Blood For Britain" which involved the collection of U.S. blood for use in England. He developed reliable and safe methods and procedures for collecting, preserving and shipping large amounts of blood plasma. Dr. Drew also headed a blood bank program for the American Red Cross (ARC) but later resigned following ARC's refusal to accept blood from African-Americans.

Later in his career, Dr. Drew was a professor at Howard University and head of the university's surgery department as well as chief surgeon at Freedmen's Hospital (Washington D.C.).

Dr. Drew was the first African-American examiner for the American Board of Surgery and during his career received many awards, including the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1944 and a distinguished service medal from the National Medical Association in 1950.