Doctoring Freedom

The Politics of African American Medical Care in Slavery and Emancipation

By Gretchen Long

248 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2833-2
    Published: February 2016
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-3739-9
    Published: October 2012
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8481-7
    Published: October 2012

John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture

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For enslaved and newly freed African Americans, attaining freedom and citizenship without health for themselves and their families would have been an empty victory. Even before emancipation, African Americans recognized that control of their bodies was a critical battleground in their struggle for autonomy, and they devised strategies to retain at least some of that control. In Doctoring Freedom, Gretchen Long tells the stories of African Americans who fought for access to both medical care and medical education, showing the important relationship between medical practice and political identity.

Working closely with antebellum medical journals, planters' diaries, agricultural publications, letters from wounded African American soldiers, WPA narratives, and military and Freedmen's Bureau reports, Long traces African Americans' political acts to secure medical care: their organizing mutual-aid societies, their petitions to the federal government, and, as a last resort, their founding of their own medical schools, hospitals, and professional organizations. She also illuminates work of the earliest generation of black physicians, whose adult lives spanned both slavery and freedom. For African Americans, Long argues, claiming rights as both patients and practitioners was a political and highly charged act in both slavery and emancipation.

About the Author

Gretchen Long is associate professor of history at Williams College.
For more information about Gretchen Long, visit the Author Page.


"In very accessible language, Long unearths black voices through rich primary sources. . . . Highly recommended. All academic levels/libraries."--Choice

"[A] briskly paced, well-informed study. . . . Long treats her subject with breadth and subtlety."--Journal of American History

"A well-written, tightly constructed narrative. . . . Doctoring Freedom is an extremely well-researched and -documented work."--North Carolina Historical Review

“Because of Long’s multifaceted approach to understanding what happened, this is a must-read for historians of the Civil War era, the history of medicine, African American history, and the history of the South, no matter how many other books the reader may have already tackled.”--The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

Doctoring Freedom will prove useful reading for U.S. health care providers, policymakers, and others interested in understanding the complex interrelationships of power and authority, health care access, and equal rights and citizenship that have characterized the history of black and white medical culture from the antebellum period to the present day.”--World Medical & Health Policy

“A rewarding synthesis brimming with new insights and original analysis and makes an important contribution to the historiography.”--Civil War Book Review