Dr. James McCune Smith, physician and abolitionist

Click thumbnail to view larger, or here to view full size.
NYPL ID number: 1804234
Portrait Collection




Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

Born in New York City in 1813, James McCune Smith referred to himself as “the son of a self-emancipated bond-woman” who owed his “liberty to the Emancipation Act of the State of New York.” He attended the Mulberry Street School at the same time as Peter Guignon and was recognized as the school's most talented student. Denied entrance to medical schools in the U.S. on account of his race, Smith matriculated at the University of Glasgow Medical School in Scotland, where he graduated at the top of his class. He returned to New York in the late 1830s and established a pharmaceutical and medical practice on West Broadway. It was in this pharmacy that Philip White apprenticed. Additionally, In the early 1840s, Smith became the physician at the Colored Oprhan Asylum.

A true Renaissance man, Smith had many interests. As a political activist, he was a leader in the antislavery movement, fought for black civil rights, and promoted the education of black children. In the 1850s, he joined the Radical Abolition Party, made up of white and black abolitionists; at its 1856 convention, the party nominated an interracial slate of candidates: white abolitionist Gerrit Smith for president and James McCune Smith for vice president.

As a writer, Smith contributed newspaper columns to Frederick Douglass’ Paper, published essays on culture and politics in the Anglo-African Magazine, and even wrote poetry.

Smith married Malvina Barnet in the early 1840s. Very little is known about her. She bore him many children, most of whom died in childhood. Long in poor health, Smith died early in 1865.


This item has no location info associated with it.


Week's , “Dr. James McCune Smith, physician and abolitionist,” Black Gotham Archive, accessed July 10, 2018, https://archive.blackgothamarchive.org/items/show/32/.