Simeon Lewis Carson (1882-1954)

Simeon Lewis Carson's private hospital, Washington, D.C., ca. 1930
Public domain image

Dr. Simeon Lewis Carson, a late-19th and early-20th century black physician, would be most known for being one of the first surgeons within Washington, D.C. to use spinal anesthesia during surgery. However, he is also renowned for his skillful use of general anesthesia throughout most of the surgeries he performed over his lifetime. Although there are multiple gaps in the life story of Dr. Carson, from the facts that are available we can get a sense of his accomplishments over his lifetime.

Simeon Lewis Carson was born on January 16, 1882 in Marion, North Carolina. His parents, Martin and Harriet Carson, were both house slaves until 1865 when Union soldiers reached Marion and liberated those who remained enslaved. The newly-emancipated African Americans, however, were provided few financial or educational opportunities. Martin and Harriet Carson, knowing this misfortune, decided to join a small exodus of newly freed African Americans to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Simeon Lewis Carson was only five years old at this time, but this move set him on his remarkable journey to becoming a renowned doctor.

In 1899, Carson, then only 17, applied for and was accepted into Michigan Medical College in Ann Arbor. Four years later, in 1903, he graduated from the college at the top of his class, and—according to local observers—he was considered the pride of the small Ann Arbor black community.

Carson initially practiced in Ann Arbor but later in 1903 he took a competitive examination to obtain a post as a government physician on the Sioux Reservation at Lower Brule, South Dakota. In 1908, Carson won—over 52 other applicants—the post of assistant surgeon chief at Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. Remarkably, Carson was only 26 at the time.  He would remain at Freedman’s Hospital for the next ten years.

On September 1, 1919, Dr. Carson opened up the Carson Private Hospital in Washington, D.C, which was one of the first of its kind to be fully directed by a person of color. Here he performed numerous successful medical procedures and became known for his swift and effective utilization of anesthesia on his patients. Carson charged a standard fee of $150 for major surgical operations which also included a two-week hospitalization stay at his facility afterwards.

From 1929 to 1936, Carson also served as a clinical professor of surgery on the faculty of the school of medicine of Howard University. He simultaneously continued his private practice until his retirement at age 56 on July 31, 1938. After closing his hospital, Carson remained in semi-retirement as he would still assist in surgeries at Adams Hospital in Washington, D.C., Carson would often donate some of his own hospital equipment to Adams.

On March 4, 1954, after suffering from cancer for many years, Dr. Simeon Lewis Carson lost his battle to cancer in his own home, in Washington, D.C. He was 72. He was survived by his wife, Carol Clark Carson, and their only daughter, Carol C. Williston.