Louise “Lulu” Fleming the first Black Woman to graduate from the Women’s Medical College at Philadelphia

Louise “Lulu” Fleming born on January 28, 1862 was the first Black woman to graduate from the Women’s Medical College at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Fleming was born to enslaved parents on a plantation near Hibernia in Clay County, Florida. Lulu Fleming completed her basic education and trained to become a teacher. She first taught in public schools near St. Augustine, Florida. In 1880 a visiting Brooklyn, New York minister, impressed by her knowledge of scriptures and her teaching, encouraged her to attend Shaw University in North Carolina. Fleming graduated from Shaw as class valedictorian on May 27, 1885.

One year later she received a request from the Women’s Baptist Foreign Missionary Society to be their first representative (teacher) in the Congo. Fleming accepted and became the first black woman appointed to serve as a missionary-teacher. She used her position to send Congolese students to Shaw University. The first of these students, Estey Carolina, arrived at Shaw in 1888 when she was 14.

Fleming’s work was interrupted in 1891 when she became severely ill and was forced to return to the United States. Reflecting on the limitations in medical care for Blacks, Fleming enrolled in The Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia in 1891, becoming the first Black person to attend the institution. Upon graduation Dr. Fleming return to the Congo. She was the only black woman doctor in a vast colony of nearly one-third the size of the United States.

Fleming was also known for the quality of care she provided and for the training of dozens of young Congolese women and men in basic medical skills. Fleming worked in the Congo for four years before contracting African sleeping sickness. She returned to Philadelphia and died there on June 20, 1899. She was only 37.