Trinidad-born dental surgeon and Spanish Civil War veteran Arnold Donowa was born in December 1895 and earned his D.D.S. from Howard University in 1922. Donowa worked at the Royal College of Dental Surgeons in Toronto as well as the child-oriented Fosythe Clinic in Boston before returning to Howard in 1929 as dean of its new College of Dentistry. After two years, Howard resigned to start a private practice in Harlem.
During the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and 1936, Donowa coordinated the collection and shipment of medical supplies, eventually becoming an officer of United Aid for Ethiopia (UAE). With Ethiopia’s defeat and the rise of Franco, Donowa shifted his efforts to the Aid Spain campaign. In 1937, Donowa responded to the American Medical Bureau’s call for volunteers and sailed for Spain in July of that year.
Lightly wounded immediately after his arrival, Doctor Donowa was assigned to the American hospital at Villa Paz as Head of Oral Surgery. Throughout his sixteen-month tour, Donowa was a popular figure in the American press, featured in mainstream, African American, and communist newspapers and journals. Returning home in December 1938, Donowa continued to campaign for the Spanish Republic until its fall.
Lincoln Brigadiers fondly recalled the surgeon’s generosity to fellow veterans on their return from Spain. He remained politically active in later years, gaining notice in 1945 for leading a group of African American dentists protesting anti-Semitic dental school quotas. Donowa retired from his practice in Harlem in the late 1950s or early 1960s and returned to Trinidad, where he is believed to have died.
Although claimed by the Communist Party, Donowa’s politics were unclear. Regardless, Doctor Donowa was an important leader among African American dentists and one of the few African Americans in the 1930s to cross racial lines as a symbol to all opponents of fascism.