This week we turn to the McClennan Family Papers, acquired by the Amistad Research Center in 1972. This collection chronicles the life of Charleston, South Carolina native Alonzo C. McClennan, as well as members of his family. Born on the eve of the Civil War in 1855, McClennan was the second African American man to enter the U.S. Naval Academy. He ultimately pursued a fulfilling medical career, founding both South Carolina’s first African American nurse training school and the Cannon Street Hospital in Charleston that predominantly served the city’s African American population. Though McClennan was the victim of much bigotry and racial prejudice during his lifetime, his contributions to the Charleston community spoke volumes regarding his determination to ensure equitable health care for all.
McClennan’s path to medicine is one of honorable distinction. Not only did he receive a scholarship to Howard University Medical School in Washington, D.C., but he completed the program in surgery with honors and pursued an additional degree in pharmacy at the turn of the 20th century. He practiced in Columbia, South Carolina and Augusta, Georgia, before meeting Ida Veronica Ridley, who would later become his wife. They moved to Charleston and in 1897 he founded Palmetto Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical Association. It was South Carolina’s first organization for black medical professionals. The fact that McClennan successfully established this cohort of distinguished black medical professionals at the height of Jim Crow in the South speaks volumes to his commitment to both exposing unjust segregation in the medical profession, and deservedly elevating the status of black medical specialists to the level of their white counterparts. A series of newspaper clippings, invitations, programs, and photographs related to the Palmetto Association are featured in this collection.
The collection also reveals a more personal, touching aspect of McClennan’s life. His correspondence with his wife is featured prominently in the collection—of note is a love letter he sent to Ida Ridley in August 1880 after his arrival in August, Georgia. Other personal correspondence paints a picture of McClennan as a prominent community leader and activist. Supplementing his personal letters is a series of photographs that chronicle the McClennan family, their children and extended family. Also included are photographs of People’s Pharmacy, a pharmacy operated by McClennan in Charleston.
The finding aid for the McClennan Family papers can be found here.
Images from the McClennan Family papers. Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.