Physician and educator Miles Vandarhurst Lynk was born in Brownsville, Tennessee, on June 3, 1871 to parents who were former slaves. When Lynk was six years old, his father was killed in an accident which left Lynk to help his mother run the farm where they were living. Lynk’s mother encouraged him to attend school at least five months a year which he supplemented by reading at home which he later called “Pine Knot College.”
When Lynk was seventeen he started teaching school in neighboring Fayette County, Tennessee, to save money to advance his education. He attended Meharry Medical College in Nashville for two years and graduated in 1891 at the age of nineteen, making him one of the youngest physicians in the state.
After graduating from Meharry Medical College, Lynk opened a medical practice in Jackson, Tennessee, becoming the first black physician in the city. The following year, he founded the first medical journal published by an African American called Medical and Surgical Observer. The journal was published monthly from 1892 to 1894. He also was the cofounder in 1895 of the National Medical Association, the organization for African American physicians. As his career rapidly evolved, Lynk in 1893 married Beebe Stephan, a Lane College graduate who would later become one of the first black women in the nation to teach chemistry and medical Latin.
In 1900 Lynk and his wife founded the University of West Tennessee which included departments in medicine, law, dentistry, pharmacy, and nursing. In 1907 the school moved from Jackson to Memphis. Dr. Fanny Kneeland, the first black woman to practice medicine in Memphis, joined the faculty after the university relocated. Lynk later served as dean of the School of Nurse Training of the Terrill Memorial Hospital in Memphis. Lynk was also a founder of the Bluff City Medical Society in Memphis and an active member of Collins Chapel Colored Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church where he was a Sunday school teacher.
The University of West Tennessee closed its doors in 1924, due to financial difficulties. Between its founding in 1900 and its closure twenty-four years later, it granted 216 medical degrees. Many of its graduates in medicine, dentistry, and nursing became known leaders in their recognized fields and practiced in numerous states and foreign countries.
Miles Lynk wrote several books and articles, some of which participants read at annual conferences of the National Medical Association. Over his long career, he would be recognized as one of the top fifty black medical practitioners in the United States. He also wrote books on African American history including The Black Troopers; or, the Daring Heroism of the Negro Soldiers in the Spanish American War, which originally appeared in 1899, and The Negro Pictorial Review of the Great World War, which was released in 1919. In 1952 Lynk was honored by the National Medical Association as the ninth recipient of the Distinguished Service Award. After his wife Beebe Stephen Lynk’s death in 1948, Lynk remarried. His second wife was Ola Herln Moore.
Miles Vandarhurst Lynk passed away on December 29, 1956, at age of eighty-six in Memphis, Tennessee. After his death, the Tennessee Historical Commission created a historical marker of Lynk’s boyhood home in Brownsville to commemorate his life and service.