Dr. Arthur Willis Davis opened his medical practice in Alabama in 1903.
He was one of the earliest generations of African American doctors.
This short biography was adapted and modernized from “The National Cyclopedia of The Colored Race”, published in 1919.
Arthur Willis Davis was born in 1875 in Marion, Alabama.
He went to public school in Marion and aspired to the same opportunities as white students in the advanced educational institutions in the town.
At that time for a black man to aspire to the study of medicine was to approach a field shrouded in awe and mystery.
Not notwithstanding the veil of mystery covering the profession, Arthur Davis decided to enter its domain. Alabama was not a section of the country that would make his journey easy.
Nevertheless, he was determined to secure a good education. Having come to that decision, he left home in search of his goal.
Arthur first attended the Talladega College at Talladega, Alabama, where he received a degree in science.
Talladega College is the oldest black college in Alabama. It was founded in 1867 by a group of former slaves with the help of the Freedmen’s Bureau. The original name was Swayne School.
Willis specialized in the sciences for the good it would serve him in his life work.
His term at the Talladega College left a religious impression upon his life which remained with him. He was a Congregationalist in the Calvinist tradition.
He then entered Meharry Medical College, the first black medical school in the South. It is located in Nashville, Tennessee.
Davis qualified as a doctor in 1903. He was now ready to hang out his shingle.
His eyes turned towards his native State, Alabama. He was ambitious to serve his own people as well as himself.
Opening His First Practice
He opened his first practice in Tuscumbia, Colbert County. He had just twenty-five dollars in his pocket.
It was a brave choice. Three black men had been dragged from the jail and lynched in 1894.
However, there was a sizeable black population who were increasingly working together for advancement.
Dr Davis was also able to extend his practice to the nearby City of Sheffield.
He quickly acquired a growing number of patients.
Fourteen Years Of Success
Dr Davis was clearly a shrewd investor of the profits from his business. As well as owning a drug store, he also invested in property.
By 1917, his list of assets showed that he owned:
- a comfortable home
- a drug store and stock
- two farms
- a residence in Sheffield which he rents.
That was just fourteen years after he opened his practice with $25.
He became a Mason and a member of the Mosaic Templars, a black order founded by former slaves in 1883. The organization provided help with death and burial services for impoverished people.
In the early 1900s, the Mosaic Templars also provided insurance and savings services. Dr. Davis acted as the State medical examiner for the organization.
He was also the medical examiner for:
- the Conservative Life Insurance Company of West Virginia
- the Standard Life Insurance Company of Atlanta, Georgia
- the Lincoln Reserve Company of Birmingham, Alabama.
Dr. Davis married two years after he qualified as a doctor. His wife was Hattie Lee Jackson of Nashville, Tennessee.
They married on December 26th, 1905, as a Christmas gift to each other. They had one daughter, Sadie May Davis.
In the 1910 census, the family were living in Tuscumbia.
An eighteen-year-old woman, Anna Balden, was also resident in the house. She was possibly a housekeeper or helping with the three-year old Sadie.