Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Drew, Charles Richard (1904-1950)
From The Hutchinson Dictionary of Scientific Biography

Place: United States of America

Subject: biography, biology

US surgeon chiefly remembered for his research into blood transfusion.

Born on 3 June 1904 in Washington, DC, Charles Drew was educated in the public schools of the city graduating with honours from Dunbar High School in 1922. After receiving a BA from Amherst College in 1926, he worked for two years as director of athletics and teacher of biology at Morgan State College. In 1928 he went on to McGill University Medical School and was awarded his MD and CM in 1933. Having completed his internship in Montréal General Hospital, in 1935 he went to Howard University Medical School as an instructor of pathology. In 1938 he was granted a research fellowship by the Rockefeller Foundation and spent two years at Columbia University, New York, and as a resident in surgery in the Presbyterian Hospital connected with the Medical School. He received a MedDSc degree from the University in 1940 - the first black person to receive this degree in the country. After working for the American Red Cross, Drew returned to Howard Medical School, where in 1942 he was made professor and head of the department of surgery and chief of surgery at the Freedmen's Hospital. In 1944 he was appointed chief of staff of the hospital. He remained there until his death following a motor accident, on 1 April 1950.

While at McGill University, Drew became interested in the problems of blood transfusion and it is his work in this field for which he is remembered. At the Presbyterian Hospital his research demonstrated that plasma had a longer life than whole blood and therefore could be better used for transfusion; he wrote a doctoral thesis ‘Banked blood: a study in preservation’, and was supervisor of the blood plasma division of the Blood Transfusion Association of New York City. In 1939 he established a blood bank and was in charge of collecting blood for the British army at the beginning of World War II. In 1941 he became director of the American Red Cross Blood Bank in New York City, which collected blood for the US armed forces. Drew resigned, however, when the Red Cross decided to segregate blood according to the race of the donor. Drew is also known for his teaching and training of surgeons and his publication of many papers in medical and scientific journals. For his work, Drew was awarded the Spingarn Medal (1944), honorary DSc degrees from Virginia State College (1945) and Amherst College (1947), and posthumously, the Distinguished Service Medal of the National Medical Association (1950). Several schools and medical centres have been named after him and a stamp was issued in his honour in 1981.

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.