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Charles R. Drew

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Charles Richard Drew
Portrait of Charles Drew.jpg
Charles Richard Drew
Born(1904-06-03)June 3, 1904
DiedApril 1, 1950(1950-04-01) (aged 45)
Alma materAmherst College, McGill University, Columbia University
Known forBlood banking, blood transfusions
AwardsSpingarn Medal
Scientific career
FieldsGeneral surgery
InstitutionsFreedman's Hospital
Morgan State University
Montreal General Hospital
Howard University
Doctoral advisorJohn Beattie

Charles Richard Drew (June 3, 1904 – April 1, 1950) was an American surgeon and medical researcher. He researched in the field of blood transfusions, developing improved techniques for blood storage, and applied his expert knowledge to developing large-scale blood banks early in World War II. This allowed medics to save thousands of lives of the Allied forces.[1] As the most prominent African American in the field, Drew protested against the practice of racial segregation in the donation of blood, as it lacked scientific foundation, and resigned his position with the American Red Cross, which maintained the policy until 1950.[2]

Early life and education

Charles Drew's 1922 Dunbar High School yearbook entry.

Drew was born in 1904 into an African-American middle-class family in Washington, D.C. His father, Richard, was a carpet layer[3] and his mother, Nora Burrell, trained as a teacher.[4] Drew and three of his four younger siblings grew up in Washington's largely middle-class and interracial Foggy Bottom neighborhood.[4] From 1920 until his marriage in 1939, Drew's permanent address was in Arlington County, Virginia,[5] although he graduated from Washington's Dunbar High School in 1922 and usually resided elsewhere during that period of time.[4][6]

Drew won an athletics scholarship to Amherst College in Massachusetts,[7] from which he graduated in 1926.[8] An outstanding athlete at Amherst,[9] Drew also joined Omega Psi Phi fraternity as an off-campus member; Amherst fraternities did not admit blacks at that time.[10] After college, Drew spent two years (1926–1928) as a professor of chemistry and biology, the first athletic director, and football coach at the historically black private Morgan College in Baltimore, Maryland, to earn the money to pay for medical school.[4][11][12]

Drew attended medical school at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where he achieved membership in Alpha Omega Alpha, a scholastic honor society for medical students, ranked second in his graduating class of 127 students, and received the standard Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degree awarded by the McGill University Faculty of Medicine in 1933.[5][8]

Drew's first appointment as a faculty instructor was for pathology at Howard University from 1935 to 1936. He then joined Freedman's Hospital, a federally operated facility associated with Howard University, as an instructor in surgery and an assistant surgeon. In 1938, Drew began graduate work at Columbia University in New York City on the award of a two-year Rockefeller fellowship in surgery. He then began postgraduate work, earning his Doctor of Science in Surgery at Columbia University. He spent time doing research at Columbia's Presbyterian Hospital and gave a doctoral thesis, "Banked Blood," based on an exhaustive study of blood preservation techniques.[13] He earned a Doctor of Science in Medicine degree in 1940, becoming the first African American to do so.[8][14]

Blood for Britain

In late 1940, before the U.S. entered World War II and just after earning his doctorate, Drew was recruited by John Scudder to help set up and administer an early prototype program for blood storage and preservation. He was to collect, test, and transport large quantities of blood plasma for distribution in the United Kingdom.[15] Drew went to New York City as the medical director of the United States' Blood for Britain project. The Blood for Britain project was a project to aid British soldiers and civilians by giving U.S. blood to the United Kingdom.

Drew started what would be later known as bloodmobiles, which were trucks containing refrigerators of stored blood; this allowed for greater mobility in terms of transportation as well as prospective donations.[16]

Drew created a central location for the blood collection process where donors could go to give blood. He made sure all blood plasma was tested before it was shipped out. He ensured that only skilled personnel handled blood plasma to avoid the possibility of contamination. The Blood for Britain program operated successfully for five months, with total collections of almost 15,000 people donating blood, and with over 5,500 vials of blood plasma.[15] As a result, the Blood Transfusion Betterment Association applauded Drew for his work.

American Red Cross Blood Bank

Out of Drew's work, he was appointed director of the first American Red Cross Blood Bank in February 1941. The blood bank being in charge of blood for use by the U.S. Army and Navy, he disagreed with the exclusion of the blood of African-Americans from plasma-supply networks. In 1942, Drew resigned from his posts after the armed forces ruled that the blood of African-Americans would be accepted but would have to be stored separately from that of whites.[13]

Academic career

In 1941, Drew's distinction in his profession was recognized when he became the first African-American surgeon selected to serve as an examiner on the American Board of Surgery.[17]

Drew had a lengthy research and teaching career, returning to Freedman's Hospital and Howard University as a surgeon and professor of medicine in 1942. He was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP in 1944 for his work on the British and American projects. He was given an honorary doctor of science degree, first by Virginia State College in 1945 then by Amherst in 1947.[13]

Personal life

Minnie Lenore Robbins with NIH Director, Donald Frederickson, unveiling of bust and exhibit of her husband, 1981

In 1939, Drew married Minnie Lenore Robbins, a professor of home economics at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, whom he had met earlier during that year.[18] They had three daughters and a son.[4] His daughter Charlene Drew Jarvis served on Council of the District of Columbia from 1979 to 2000, was the president of Southeastern University from 1996 until 2009 and was a president of the District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce.[19]


Illustration of Drew by Charles Alston in the collection of the National Archives

Beginning in 1939, Drew traveled to Tuskegee, Alabama to attend the annual free clinic at the John A. Andrew Memorial Hospital.[20] For the 1950 Tuskegee clinic, Drew drove along with three other black physicians. Drew was driving around 8 a.m. on April 1. Still fatigued from spending the night before in the operating theater, he lost control of the vehicle. After careening into a field, the car somersaulted three times. The three other physicians suffered minor injuries. Drew was trapped with serious wounds; his foot had become wedged beneath the brake pedal. When reached by emergency technicians, he was in shock and barely alive due to severe leg injuries.

Drew was taken to Alamance General Hospital in Burlington, North Carolina.[21] He was pronounced dead a half hour after he first received medical attention. Drew's funeral was held on April 5, 1950, at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

Despite a popular myth to the contrary, once repeated on an episode ("Dear Dad... Three") of the hit TV series M*A*S*H, Drew's death was not the result of his having been refused a blood transfusion because of his skin color. This myth spread very quickly since during his time it was very common for blacks to be refused treatment because there were not enough "Negro beds" available or the nearest hospital only serviced whites. In truth, according to one of the passengers in Drew's car, John Ford, Drew's injuries were so severe that virtually nothing could have been done to save him. Ford added that a blood transfusion might have actually killed Drew sooner.[21][22][23]


Charles Richard Drew House

Numerous schools and health-related facilities, as well as other institutions, have been named in honor of Dr. Drew.

Medical and higher education

K-12 schools

Mural of Doctor Charles R. Drew at the Charles Richard Drew Educational Campus / Intermediate School in the Bronx, NY



  1. ^ "Patent For Preserving Blood Issued November 10, 1942; Washingtonian's invention made blood bank possible" (Press release). Brigid Quinn, United States Patent and Trademark Office. November 9, 2001. Archived from the original on February 11, 2009. Retrieved February 3, 2009.
  2. ^ Dr. Charles Drew,
  3. ^ "Fifteenth Census of the United States (1930) [database on-line], Arlington Magisterial District, Arlington County, Virginia, Enumeration District: 7-11, Page: 6B, Line: 69, household of Richard T. Drew". United States: The Generations Network. 1930-04-14. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
  4. ^ a b c d e "The Charles R. Drew Papers". U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 2012-08-25.
  5. ^ a b c (1) "Charles Richard Drew House". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2007-12-31. Retrieved 2008-04-11.
    (2) Graves, Lynne Gomez, Historical Projects Director, Afro-American Bicentennial Corporation (1976-02-02). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory—Nomination Form: Charles Richard Drew House". National Park Service. Archived from the original (pdf) on 2019-01-17. Retrieved 2019-01-17. Cite journal requires |journal= (help) and "Accompanying 4 photos, exterior, from 1920 and 1976". National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2019-01-17. Retrieved 2019-01-17.
  6. ^ (1) Blitz, Matt (2017-02-20). "Charles Drew Lived Here". Arlington Magazine. Archived from the original on 2019-02-04. Retrieved 2019-02-04 – via GTexcel.
    (2) Drew, Charles B. (1995-04-07). "Stranger Than Fact". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-08-25.
  7. ^ Biography of Drew from PBS website of the special "Red Gold"
  8. ^ a b c Charles Drew page Archived 2011-05-18 at the Wayback Machine at Retrieved 2011-06-26.
  9. ^ Drew was awarded for his "athletic prowess" biography from Charles R. Drew University Archived 2009-08-18 at the Wayback Machine; a picture of Drew in his football uniform is available from the website of the National Medical Library
  10. ^ Famous Omegas Archived 2016-11-05 at the Wayback Machine from the official website of Omega Psi Phi, Inc.
  11. ^ "Former Morgan Professor Dr. Charles Drew Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame". Morgan State University. 2015-05-11. Retrieved 2018-11-20.
  12. ^ "Morgan State Bears Hall of Fame". Morgan State Bears football team. Retrieved 2018-11-20.
  13. ^ a b c
  14. ^ Drew, Charles R. (1940-05-31). "Letter from Charles R. Drew to Edwin B. Henderson" (PDF). Bethesda, Maryland: National Institutes of Health: National Library of Medicine. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2019-01-18. Retrieved 2019-01-17. On Tuesday I get the degree of Doctor of Science in Medicine.
  15. ^ a b Starr, Douglas P. (2000). Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce. New York: Quill. ISBN 0-688-17649-6.
  16. ^ Salas, Laura P. (2006). Charles Drew: Pioneer in Medicine. Minnesota: Capstone Press. pp. 20. ISBN 0736854339.
  17. ^ "The Charles R. Drew Papers - "My Chief Interest Was and Is Surgery"--Howard University, 1941–1950". Profiles in Science. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 2013-09-17. Other sources put the date as late as 1943, e.g., PBS's Red Gold.
  18. ^ Biography by United States National Library of Medicine
  19. ^ (1) "Ward 4 Member of the Council of the District of Columbia". District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics. Archived from the original on 2008-07-16.
    (2) Hallman, Lesly. "Legacy and Memory of Charles Drew Lives On". American Red Cross. Archived from the original on 2004-11-27. Retrieved 2004-06-04.
    (3) "Board of Trustees: The Honorable Charlene Drew Jarvis, PhD, Secretary". The National Health Museum. January 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-08-23. Retrieved 2007-04-01.
  20. ^ Anne E. Schraff (2003), Charles Drew: Pioneer in Medicine, Enslow Publishing, Inc.
  21. ^ a b "Question of the Month: The Truth About the Death of Charles Drew". Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. June 2004. Archived from the original on December 12, 2013. Retrieved November 19, 2013.
  22. ^ "Did the black doctor who invented blood plasma die because white doctors wouldn't treat him?". The Straight Dope. November 1989. Retrieved February 18, 2014.
  23. ^ Sluby, Patricia Carter (2004). The Inventive Spirit of African Americans: Patented Ingenuity. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 112–13. ISBN 978-0-275-96674-4. OCLC 260101002. Retrieved February 18, 2014.
  24. ^ Charles Richard Drew Memorial Bridge at The Historical Marker Database.
  25. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1-57392-963-9
  26. ^ Charles Drew Health Center
  27. ^ About Dr. Charles R. Drew Archived 2006-09-01 at the Wayback Machine, Charles Drew Charles Drew Science Enrichment Laboratory, Michigan State University
  28. ^ Charles R. Drew Wellness Center Archived June 5, 2009, at the Wayback Machine, City of Columbia.
  29. ^ Charles R. Drew Hall Archived 2006-08-27 at the Wayback Machine, Howard University
  30. ^ Amherst College page on the house Archived August 10, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^ "Charles Drew Premedical Society". Retrieved 26 December 2017.
  32. ^ Charles R. Drew Elementary School, Miami-Dade County Public Schools
  33. ^ Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School Archived June 4, 2006, at the Wayback Machine, Broward County Public Schools
  34. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Bluford Drew Jemison S.T.E.M. Academy. Archived from the original on September 14, 2010. Retrieved March 22, 2013.
  35. ^ Green, Erica L. (2013-06-11). "City school board approves three new charters". The Baltimore Sun. Baltimore.
  36. ^ Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School, Montgomery County Public Schools
  37. ^ "NYC Department of Education Maps". NYC Department of Education. Archived from Drew the original Check |url= value (help) on 2017-12-27. Retrieved 26 December 2017.

Further reading

  • Love, Spencie (1996), One Blood: The Death and Resurrection of Charles R. Drew, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, (1997 reprint) ISBN 0-8078-4682-1
  • Organ, Claude H., editor (1987), A Century of Black Surgeons: The USA Experience, Transcript Press, ISBN 0-9617380-0-6. Vol. I, Asa G. Yancey, Sr., Chapter 2: The Life Of Charles R. Drew, MD
  • Schraff, Anne E. (2003), Dr. Charles Drew: Blood Bank Innovator, Enslow, ISBN 0-7660-2117-3
  • Wynes, Charles E. (1988), Charles Richard Drew: The Man and the Myth, University of Illinois Press, ISBN 0-252-01551-7

External links