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African American Medical Pioneers: William Augustus Hinton (1883-1959)

William Augustus HintonWilliam Augustus Hinton was born on December 15, 1883 in Chicago. His parents, Augustus Hinton and Maria Clark, were both former slaves. Hinton grew up in Kansas. After high school, he studied at the University of Kansas, finishing the premedical program in just two years instead of the usual three. Hinton continued undergraduate studies at Harvard, receiving a bachelor's degree there in 1905.

Hinton worked for a time in a law office, and then taught science at Waldo University in Tennessee before pursuing a career in medicine.

In 1909, Hinton was offered a scholarship reserved for African American students, but instead of accepting it, he chose to compete for a scholarship open to all students, the Wigglesworth scholarship. He won the scholarship two years in a row. Hinton finished the Harvard medical program in just three years instead of the usual four. He received his M.D. in 1912.

After graduating, Hinton began work at the Wassermann Laboratory at Harvard, and by 1915 he had become director of the lab. The lab was the official lab for the Massachusetts State Department of Public Health. In 1916, he also assumed the job of chief of the Boston Dispensary's laboratory department, where he created a program to train women as lab technicians. That helped to open the profession to women.

For most of his research career, he worked on laboratory tests designed to improve the diagnosis of sexually transmitted diseases. In 1927, he developed a test --later known as the Hinton test -- for diagnosing syphilis. It was easier, less expensive, and more accurate than previous methods, and was adopted as the standard procedure for diagnosing syphilis. Later, Hinton helped to develop another diagnostic test known as the Davies-Hinton test.

As a professor, Hinton taught preventative medicine and hygiene at Harvard from 1923, for 27 years. His book on syphilis, a serious public health threat, became widely acclaimed. Hinton noted the role of socioeconomics in health and called syphilis "a disease of the underprivileged."

Hinton also worked as a special consultant to the U.S. Public Health Service and taught at Tufts University and Simmons College. Despite losing a leg in a car accident in 1940, he continued to teach at Harvard until 1950, and kept working at the Wassermann laboratory until 1953. Like Vivien Thomas, he was an avid gardener and furniture craftsman. Hinton died in 1959 in Massachusetts at the age of 75.

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