William Augustus Hinton

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William Augustus Hinton

1883-1959

American Bacteriologist and Pathologist

William Augustus Hinton was an American bacteriologist and pathologist who made significant contributions to the areas of public health and medicine. Dr. Hinton overcame poverty and racial prejudice to become the foremost investigator of his time in the area of venereal disease, specifically syphilis. He developed a blood serum test called the Hinton test that accurately diagnosed the presence of syphilis. He is also noteworthy because he was the first black professor at Harvard University Medical School, and he authored the first medical textbook by a black American to be published, Syphilis and Its Treatment (1936).

William Hinton was born in Chicago, Illinois, on December 15, 1883. He was the son of former slaves who imparted a strong belief in the importance of equal opportunity for everyone. Hinton spent his younger years in Kansas and was the youngest student to ever graduate from his high school. He initially attended the University of Kansas, but had to leave after two years so that he could earn enough money for school. He then attended Harvard University and graduated in 1905. Hinton delayed medical school and accepted a job as a teacher to earn money. Because of his belief in equal opportunity without special treatment, he refused a scholarship reserved for black students. This was to be a common theme throughout his life.

Hinton graduated with a medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1912, completing his degree in only three years. After graduation, he worked for the Wasserman Laboratory, a biological laboratory that was associated with the Medical School at that time. Hinton was named chief of the laboratory when it was transferred to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in 1915. Hinton was an excellent teacher and was appointed as an instructor in preventive medicine and hygiene at Harvard Medical School in 1918. He taught at Harvard for over 30 years until 1949, when he was promoted to the rank of clinical professor. Hinton was the first black person to become a professor at Harvard Medical School in its 313-year history.

An expert in the study of disease detection and the development of medications to combat those ailments, Hinton is best known for his advances in specific tests used to detect syphilis. His "Hinton Test" greatly enhanced syphilis screening by reducing the number of people who were falsely believed to have the disease. These false positives were common with standard tests of that time. This breakthrough significantly reduced the number of patients who had to undergo needless treatment. In 1934, the U.S. Public Health Service reported that the Hinton test was the most effective test for syphilis at that time. He later developed the Davies-Hinton test for detection of syphilis in blood and spinal fluid.

During his professional career, Hinton published many important articles and books in the field of medicine. He was a dedicated scientist who believed in his principles. He declined the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP in 1938 because he wanted to be rewarded for the quality of his work, not his race. He was also concerned that his productivity as a researcher would be compromised if his colleagues knew he was black. It is believed that Hinton could have had a very successful private practice, but he chose to serve in the field of public health. Hinton had diabetes, which strained his eyesight and strength. This caused him to retire completely from active service in 1953. He died in 1959.

JAMES J. HOFFMANN

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William Augustus Hinton

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