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Recognizing Dr. William Lane Watkins: Biography


  • William Lane Watkins was born November 26, 1852, in Baltimore, Maryland 
  • His parents, William H. Watkins and Susan Marie Bowie, moved with their children to New Bedford, Massachusetts, in about 1860  
  • His father worked as a city messenger in New Bedford and his mother kept house, raising William and several younger siblings 
  • Academically accomplished, he graduated from New Bedford High School in 1872, a time when only 2% of people nationwide completed high school 
  • He was accepted into the first co-educational class of the newly named Boston University School of Medicine in 1873, following the merger of the New England Female Medical College (NEFMC) and Boston University 
  • Determined to be a doctor, he continued his studies despite the death in childbirth of his mother in September, 1874, weeks prior to the beginning of his second year of medical school 
  • He graduated from the BU School of Medicine in 1876, becoming the school’s first black alumnus (Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who graduated from the NEFMC in 1864, is considered the first black alumna) 
  • His medical school thesis, on an herb called jaborandi, was published as an article in the New England Medical Gazette in April, 1876 
  • Unable to establish a medical practice in Massachusetts, he moved back to Baltimore and found work in the U.S. Customs Office before taking a position managing the Mt. Nebo Elementary School in Queen Anne Town (now Queen Anne, Maryland) 
  • He married Jane E. Turner in 1878, and the couple had 10 children, of whom 6 are known to have survived: descendants of the Watkins family still live in and around the Queen Anne area in Prince George’s County, Maryland 
  • Dedicated to the “Party of Emancipation” he was active in the Maryland Republican Party from the 1880s-1920s, and was one of the first African American delegates to the Republican Central Committee for the state 
  • He continued to manage the Mt. Nebo Elementary School while also serving as the local doctor 
  • A committed physician, teacher and political activist, he spent his life working for health and justice in his community 
  • He died December 31, 1929, age 77, in Mitchellville Maryland