University of South Florida

African American History Month: Seeing the past in today’s health professions

History is filled with people who have impacted health professions. In honor of African American History Month, we’d like to highlight some notable pioneers in the fields represented by the four USF Health colleges.


Julia Pearl HughesJulia Pearl Hughes: first female African American pharmacist to own and operate her own drug store (1899 in South Philadelphia), as well as the first to form her own chemical company. She built a dynasty through another company she formed (Hair-Vim Chemical Company) that produced hair care products for black women.

“Julia Pearl Hughes paved the way for countless other pharmacists, African American or not, to provide communities with better trained and knowledgeable pharmacists dispensing safe medications at their corner drug store. While today’s pharmacists provide a much greater range of expertise through a greater variety of careers, that early ambition by Julia Pearl Hughes, in an era of intense segregation, laid the groundwork for many to follow.”

Kevin B. Sneed, PharmD, CRPh
Senior Associate Vice President, USF Health
Dean and Professor, USF College of Pharmacy

Public Health

Clara Frye cropped        Clara C. Frye: founder of Tampa’s Clara Frye Negro Hospital (1923). In 1908, a physician told Frye a local African American patient needed surgery and local white hospitals were not options. Trained as a nurse, Frye offered her home in Tampa Heights to act as a place for the surgery. Her dining room table was the operating table that allowed the doctor to remove a large tumor from the patient, and her own bed allowed the man to recover. From that point forward, Frye opened her home as a clinic for the black community until the Clara Frye Negro Hospital opened in 1923 a few blocks from her house. A year following her death in 1936, the City of Tampa built the Clara Frye Memorial Hospital along the Hillsborough River in her honor.

“Clara Frye is a true hero of the movements to honor and create civil rights. Public health is all about social justice and health equity and early pioneers like Clara Frye faced incredible odds working to make available health care to all individuals. Health is a human right and we have a long way to go before we truly assure to every citizen the right to appropriate and necessary health care.  People like Clara Frye remind us that the road is long but worth walking every day in service to this elemental truth – that we are all created equal and we all deserve the same chance to enjoy a quality of life that enables us to contribute to the betterment of all

Donna J. Petersen, ScD, MHS, CPH
Senior Associate Vice President, USF Health
Dean and Professor, USF College of Public Health


Mary Eliza Mahoney     Mary Eliza Mahoney: first black to graduate from an American nursing school (1879). She is known as the first professional black nurse in America. She is also the co-founder of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, which later merged with the American Nurses Association.

“So much of nursing history is filled with passing information from generation to generation. Mary Mahoney exemplifies the stronger foundation of skills and knowledge later generations of nurses need and patients deserve. The fact that she, as an African American, earned her degree in 1879 makes her efforts even more amazing. These were the early days of formalized nursing studies and degrees and Mary Mahoney was at the forefront of it all.”

Dianne Morrison-Beedy, PhD, FAANP, FNAP, FAAN
Senior Associate Vice President, USF Health
Dean and Professor, USF College of Nursing


Charles Richard Drew      Charles Richard Drew: physician, surgeon and researcher who developed an improved technique for storing blood, which was used to develop large-scale blood banks in early World War II, helping medics save thousands of lives of the Allied Forces. His work also included the discovery that plasma could replace whole blood transfusions.

“Charles Drew’s work with blood transfusion was huge and, to this day, impacts frontline medicine. It would be impossible to count the number of lives that have been saved around the world because we can store blood. Dr. Drew was a brilliant man. At the top of his class in medical school, he won a prize in neuroanatomy and was a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society.”

Bryan A. Bognar, MD, MPH, FACP
Vice Dean for Educational Affairs
USF Health Morsani College of Medicine


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