Marker Monday: Savannah’s African-American Medical Pioneers

To highlight this year’s Georgia History Festival theme, “A Legacy of Leadership,” December’s #MarkerMondays explore medical history in Georgia and the Georgians who were pioneers in their field.

This week’s #MarkerMonday highlights Dr. Cornelius McKane and Dr. Alice Woodby McKane, African-American physicians in Savannah, Georgia. Cornelius McKane was born in Georgetown, Dutch Guiana. He attended school in New York and later enrolled in the University of Vermont Medical College, graduating in 1891. He moved to Savannah after hearing about the lack of African-American doctors and began his medical practice in 1892.

Alice Woodby (1865-1948) was born in Bridgewater, Pennsylvania. She graduated from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1889. After graduation, she moved to Augusta, Georgia, becoming the only African-American female physician in Georgia at that time. In Augusta, Woodby worked alongside Lucy Craft Laney at the Haines Institute, a school established to educate African-American children. Alice and Cornelius met in Augusta and married in the early 1890s.

Photograph of the Charity Hospital and Training School for Nurses. From the Charity Hospital and Training School for Nurses vertical file.

After their wedding, Alice moved to Savannah to join Cornelius and noticed the local African-American community lacked adequate medical care and trained physicians. In June 1893, she established the McKane Training School for Nurses. Following the school’s first graduation, the McKanes moved to Monrovia, Liberia, where they organized several healthcare facilities, including the nation’s first hospital with the American Colonization Society. However, the couple decided to return to Savannah nearly one year later. Back in Savannah, the McKanes opened the McKane Hospital for Women and Children (later renamed Charity Hospital and Training School for Nurses) in late 1896. Concerned for their children’s education, the McKanes relocated to Boston in 1909, where Cornelius died three years later. After his passing, Alice continued to train nurses and published two books, The Fraternal Sick Bed (1913) and a book of poetry, Clover Leaves (1914). She died in 1948.

Explore the links below to learn more about Cornelius and Alice Woodby McKane and their efforts to provide medical training and care in Savannah and elsewhere around the world.

Full Marker Text

Charity Hospital and Training School for Nurses Historical Marker Text

Georgia History Festival Blog Post- A Legacy of Leadership: Dr. Alice Woodby McKane and Pioneering Healthcare in Georgia

Georgia Women of Achievement: Dr. Alice Woodby McKane

Black Then: Alice Woodby McKane: First Black Woman Doctor in Savannah, Georgia Alice Woodby McKane (1865-1948) The American Colonization Society

PBS: American Colonization Society

Further Reading

Beckford, Geraldine Rhoades. Biographical Dictionary of American Physicians of African Ancestry, 1800-1920. Cherry Hill, NJ: Africana Homestead Legacy Publishers, 2011, 219.

Elmore, Charles J. "Black Medical Pioneers in Savannah, 1892-1909: Cornelius McKane and Alice Woodby McKane." Georgia Historical Quarterly 88, no. 2 (2004): 179-96.

Elmore, Charles J. Savannah Georgia. (Black America Series) Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2002.

Golson, Hugh. "A State of Innovation: Medical Pioneers Cornelius and Alice Woodby McKane." Georgia History Today, Vol. 10, No. 3&4, Fall/Winter 2016, 9.

McKane, Alice Woodby. Clover Leaves. Boston, MA, 1914.

Parker, Evelyn W. "The Doctors McKane." The Savannah Biographies 24 (November 17, 1993). Special Collections, Lane Library, Armstrong Atlantic State University.

Perdue, Robert Eugene. The Negro in Savannah, 1865-1900. New York: Exposition Press, 1973.

University of Vermont. Thirty-Ninth Annual Announcement of the Medical Department of the University of Vermont and the State Agricultural College (organized in 1791). Burlington, Vermont- For the Year 1892. Burlington, VT: R.S. Styles Steam Book and Job Printer, 1891.

Related Marker Monday Posts

The Georgia Infirmary (Posted May 2, 2016)

Lucy Craft Laney (Posted April 17, 2017)