In Memoriam: Hinton, William Augustus

In Memoriam: Hinton, William Augustus


William Augustus Hinton was born on December 15, 1883 in Chicago, IL. After completing the premedical program at the University of Kansas one year ahead of schedule he went on to earn a B.S. degree from Harvard University in 1905.  Hinton worked for a time in a law office, and then taught science at Walden University, Nashville, Tennessee, and in Langston, Oklahoma. He continued his studies in bacteriology and physiology during the summer months at the University of Chicago before entering Harvard Medical School in 1909 on a Wigglesworth scholarship.  Again, he graduated ahead of schedule with a M.D. from Harvard Medical College in 1912.

After graduating, Hinton began work at the Wassermann Laboratory at Harvard, and by 1915 he had become director of the lab. The lab was the official lab for the Massachusetts State Department of Public Health. Hinton served as Assistant Director of the Division of Biologic Laboratories and chief of the Wasserman Laboratory when it was transferred from Harvard to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (1915). He soon thereafter assumed the job of chief of the Boston Dispensary's laboratory department, where he created a program to train women as lab technicians. In 1918 he was appointed as instructor in preventive medicine and hygiene at the Harvard Medical School, while continuing his work as chief of the Wasserman Laboratory.

Hinton became a world renowned expert in the diagnosis and treatment of syphilis. In 1927, he developed diagnostic test for syphilis, later known as the Hinton test, which was eventually endorsed by the U.S. Public Health Service. He served as an instructor and lecturer at Harvard before being promoted to rank of clinical professor. Hinton was then the first black person to become a professor at Harvard Medical School.  In 1936, Hinton published Syphilis and Its Treatment (New York: The Macmillan Company), the first medical textbook by a black American. 

Hinton taught and lectured at multiple institutions including the Harvard School of Public Health, Tufts University Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, and Simmons College and worked as a special consultant to the U.S. Public Health Service.  Although retiring from Harvard in 1950 with the status of professor emeritus he continued lecturing there for several years and served as physician-in-chief of the Department of Clinical Laboratories of the Boston Dispensary until 1953. William Augustus Hinton died in 1959 in Massachusetts at the age of 75.  (Biography adapted from Brown, Mitchell, Faces of Science: African-American in the Science 1996 and from PBS "Partners of the Heart".)