Much of what the world came to know about dementia in the early part of the 20th Century was due to the work of Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who discovered the particular type of dementia that bears his name.
But it was Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller, an African American, who made the connection between the disease and changes in the brains of those with it. Fuller also made sure that Dr. Alzheimer’s findings were translated into English and accessible to physicians and psychologists in England and the United States as they tried to figure out this memory-stealing disease. Dr. Fuller worked alongside Dr. Alzheimer’s and later practiced at Westborough State Mental Hospital in Massachusetts. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it was at Westborough that Dr. Fuller pioneered “revolutionary research” on the physical changes in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Fuller was born in Liberia, the descendant of American slaves who had freed themselves then immigrated to Liberia to establish a home away from the United States. His grandfather had been enslaved in Virginia, but later bought his and wife’s freedom and took off for West Africa. His father was an official in the Liberian government and a coffee planter by trade and his mother, the daughter of physicians, ran a school where she taught young Fuller and other children.
He studied at Livingstone College in North Carolina and the Long Island College Medical School before getting his medical degree from the Boston University Medical School, which was open to both Blacks and women. He did further study and research at the psychiatric clinic at the University of Munich in Germany, where he met and worked with Dr. Alzheimer and Emil Kraepelin, who is considered the founder of modern psychiatry because he believed that psychiatric disease was biological and a genetic malfunction.
It was at Westborough State Mental Hospital where Fuller did his pioneering work establishing the changes in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, which undergirds the work being done now to understand the biological causes of those changes and how to derail them before they start destroying the brain.
Dr. Fuller lived most of his life in Framingham, Mass., with his wife, Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller. Meta Fuller was a multitalented artist who was considered one of the most imaginative African American artist of her generation and whose works in poetry, sculpture and painting helped create intense interest in Black art that foreshadowed the Harlem Renaissance.
“Solomon Carter Fuller” by anonymous/unknown – NYPL. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons
“Vauxwarrickfuller” by Benjamin Griffith Brawley – 1882-1939 –