Today in 1949, Dr. J.R. Gladden Became America’s First Black Orthopedic Surgeon

0 Posted by - January 22, 2021 - Blacks In Medicine, On This Date

Photo credits: The J. Robert Gladden Orthopedic Society

James Robert Gladden (pictured) was born to James Albert and Luaco Gladden on October 29, 1911, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

He graduated from New York’s Long Island University Class in 1936. As a student, he played varsity basketball and was also captain of the varsity tennis team. After completing his undergraduate at Long Island University, he was accepted into graduate school at Meharry Medical College.

After medical school, he received his M.D. degree magna cum laude. Gladden also earned the Andrew Nelson Award for earning the highest four-year grade point average at Meharry Medical College.

In 1943, due to the efforts of Dr. Julius Neviaser, Freedmen’s Hospital, affiliated with Howard University, became the only institution in America where Blacks could routinely obtain approved training. The curriculum provided orthopedic study programs for general surgical residents who rotated through the service.

However, the program was primarily designed for the training of orthopaedic residents. Dr. J. Robert Gladden became the first full-time orthopaedic resident at Howard University. Dr. Gladden continued to pioneer in the speciality of orthopaedic surgeons.

On January 22, 1949, he became the first African American certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery.

He was also the first member of his race to be elected to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. In 1950, Dr. J. Robert Gladden was appointed clinical assistant professor and chief of the Division of Orthopaedics.

A number of men received all or part of their training in the program during the next decade at the Academy.

Dr. Gladden became the first African-American to be elected a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons in 1951. In 1956, he became the first non-white physician to perform a major surgery at King George’s Hospital in Hamilton, Bermuda. In 1959, he was honored with the Tristram Walker Metcalfe award by Long Island University for his dedicated service to society.

During his life, Dr. Gladden was chief of orthopedic surgery at the Howard University School of Medicine and “Freedmen’s” Hospital. He was also one of three chiefs of orthopedic surgery at the District’s General Hospital. Aside from Howard, he lectured at George Washington Medical School.

Dr. Gladden was affiliated with numerous hospitals in the greater Washington D.C. area. Additionally, he was chairman of the Orthopedic Section of the National Medical Association. He held numerous other posts of leadership in his profession and contributed frequently to professional journals.

Dr. Gladden spent his leisure time fishing on the Chesapeake Bay. He vacationed often in the Bahamas for white and blue marlin. He died on December 8, 1969, at the age of 58.

Reference: The J. Robert Gladden Orthopedic Society. (n.d) About Dr. Gladden. Retrieved from

*Black Then writer/historian Victor Trammell edited and contributed to this report.

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