Visionary STEM Leader
June 3, 1904 – April 1, 1950
Dr. Charles Richard Drew was an African-American physician who pioneered ways to process and store blood plasma in blood banks. He was appointed the director of the first Red Cross Blood Bank and supported a blood-plasma program for Great Britain during World War II. He resigned when the U.S. Armed Forces ruled that the blood would be segregated. He then became Chief of Staff and Medical Director Freedmen’s Hospital, Washington, D.C., and Head of Surgery at Howard University.
Drew was born in Washington, D.C., and showed great athletic prowess. He attended Amherst College in Massachusetts on an athletic scholarship, excelling in track and football. After graduating, he taught biology at Morgan College, now Morgan State University, in Baltimore before being accepted to medical school at McGill University in Montreal, Canada and where he began to examine problems and issues regarding blood transfusions.
Drew received a Rockefeller Fellowship to study at Columbia University where he continued to work on processing and preserving blood plasma. Plasma lasts much longer than whole blood making it easier to preserve and reuse. Drew discovered that plasma could be dried and reconstituted when needed. In addition, he demonstrated that everyone has the same plasma, so plasma transfusions can be given to anyone, regardless of blood type. This work formed the foundation for his dissertation and he became the first African American to receive a doctorate from Columbia.
In 1950 in North Carolina, Drew was in a tragic car accident, thrown from the car, and severely injured. He was taken to a “white” hospital where doctors worked valiantly to save him. Unfortunately, his injuries were so severe that he could not be saved. Almost immediately, rumors started that Drew died because white doctors refused to give him blood, ironic as he was the “father” of the blood bank. Although the rumor was believable because the South was still rigidly segregated, Drew did receive the emergency medical care that many other African Americans did not receive.
In 1966 in honor and recognition of Drew’s achievements, the Charles R. Drew Postgraduate Medical School was incorporated in the State of California as a private, non-profit, educational institution and today is considered the second most diverse four-year private nonprofit college in the nation.
- B.S., Amherst College, 1926
- M.D., McGill University, 1933
- Ph.D., Columbia University, 1940
Special Affiliations, Awards, and Honors
- Springarn Medal from the NAACP, 1943
- Honorary Ph.D., Amherst College, 1947
- Honorary Ph.D., Virginia State College, 1945
- U.S. Postage Stamp in the Great Americans series, 1981
“While one must grant at once that extraordinary talent, great intellectual strength and unusual opportunity are necessary to break out of this prison of the Negro problem, we believe that the Negro in the field of physical sciences has not only opened a small passageway to the outside world, but is carving a road in many untrod areas, along which later generations will find it more easy to travel. The breaching of these walls and the laying of this road has not been, and is not easy.”