Dr. Charles Drew
Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science is named in honor of
the brilliant African-American physician, famous for his pioneering
work in blood preservation. The University, in its emphasis on service
to the community, draws its inspiration from the life of Drew, whose
short 46 years were full of achievements, learning and sharing of his
knowledge to benefit mankind.
Charles Drew was born June 3, 1904, in Washington, D.C. He attended
Amherst College in Massachusetts, where his athletic prowess in track and
football earned him the Mossman trophy as the man who contributed the
most to athletics for four years. He then taught biology and served as
coach at Morgan State College in Baltimore before entering McGill
University School of Medicine in Montreal. As a medical student, Drew
became an Alpha Omega Alpha Scholar and won the J. Francis Williams
Fellowship, based on a competitive examination given annually to the top
five students in his graduating class. Drew received his MD degree in
1933 and served his first appointment as a faculty instructor in pathology
at Howard University, from 1935 to 1936. He then became an instructor in
surgery and an assistant surgeon at Freedman's Hospital, a federally operated
facility associated with Howard University.
In 1938, Drew was awarded a two-year Rockefeller fellowship in surgery and
he began postgraduate work, earning his Doctor of Science in Surgery at
Columbia University. His doctoral thesis, "Banked Blood" was based on
an exhaustive study of blood preservation techniques. It was while he
was engaged in research at Columbia's Presbyterian Hospital that his
ultimate destiny in serving mankind was shaped. The military emergency
of World War II had a demanding vital need for information and
procedures on how to preserve blood.
As the European war scene became more violent and the need for blood
plasma intensified, Drew, as the leading authority in the field, was
selected as the full-time medical director of the Blood for Britain
project. He supervised the successful collection of 14,500 pints of
vital plasma for the British. In February 1941, Drew was appointed
director of the first American Red Cross Blood Bank, in charge of blood
for use by the U.S. Army and Navy. During this time, Drew agitated the
authorities to stop excluding the blood of African-Americans from
plasma-supply networks, and in 1942, he resigned his official 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.
The NAACP awarded him the Spingarn Medal in 1944 in recognition of
his work on the British and American projects. Virginia State College
presented him an honorary doctor of science degree in 1945, as did his
alma mater Amherst in 1947.
Drew returned to Freedman's Hospital and Howard University where he
served as a professor of medicine and surgeon from 1942 to 1950. On April
1, 1950, Drew was motoring with three colleagues to the annual meeting of the
John A. Andrews Association in Tuskegee, Alabama, when he was killed in
a one-car accident. The automobile struck the soft shoulder of the road
and overturned. Drew was severely injured and rushed to nearby Alamance
County General Hospital in Burlington, North Carolina. In the words of
his widow, "everything was done in his fight for life" by the medical
staff. However, it was too late to save him.
At his untimely death, Charles Drew left behind a devoted wife, Lenore,
four children and a legacy of inspirational, unstinting dedication to
service for all people. In 1981, the U.S. Postal Service paid tribute
to Drew by issuing in his honor, a stamp in the GREAT AMERICANS Series.