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Alumni Feature 1

Charles S. Harrison, Class of 1876

Educator and Physician

Charles S. Harrison

The 1876 Marietta College graduation of Charles Sumner Harrison held immediate significance; as one of eighteen men receiving diplomas that day, Harrison became the first black alumnus.

Born in Ohio in 1856, Harrison was the second son of George W. and Maria Harrison. Shortly after the Civil War, the family relocated to Harmar, where they were befriended by David and Hannah Putnam, whose home was an important station on the Underground Railroad and from whom the Harrisons purchased several parcels of land. It is very likely Douglas Putnam prevailed upon the Harrisons to send Charles to the Preparatory Department of Marietta College in which he enrolled in 1870 at the age of 14.

In the years following his college graduation, Harrison held positions teaching Latin and mathematics and serving as principal of a segregated high school. Having taken the Civil Service examination and scoring extremely high, he was called to Washington, D.C. in November, 1890, to assume a clerkship in the Medical Department of the Pension Office. Two years later, to better prepare for this work, he began studies in the Medical School of Howard University, where he received an M.D. in 1895. Though his chief work continued to be with the Pension Office, he also practiced as a registered physician in the Washington area. At the time of his death in 1912, Harrison had reached "the highest appointive office but one" in the Medical Department of the Pension Office.