Skip Navigation
search icon Open Search Field
Leonard Hall

The First Four-Year Medical School in the United States

When classes began at Leonard Hall in 1882, Shaw University made history as the home of the first medical school in the United States to offer a four-year curriculum – including white institutions. 

The building was named after Judson Wade Leonard, a successful Connecticut businessman and key early benefactor of the University. He was also the brother-in-law of Shaw's founder, Henry Martin Tupper. 

In 1886, the college awarded its first degrees to six men, including M.T. Pope, whose historic house still stands on Wilmington Street only a few blocks from campus. 

Other prominent alumni of Leonard Medical School include: 

  • J.T. Williams practiced medicine at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Charlotte and was twice elected to the Board of Aldermen. Williams also served as the United States ambassador to Sierra Leone from 1898 to 1907. 
  • Aaron McDuffie Moore was a co-founder of the North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company in Durham, the oldest and largest black-owned business in the United States. He was also the first black M.D. in Durham. 
  • Lawson Andrew Scruggs was the class valedictorian and founded the Old North State Medical Society, the nation's oldest association of black physicians. 

Unfortunately, Leonard Medical School shut down in 1918, but during its 36-year run, the school graduated nearly 400 physicians. Many of these graduates were prominent citizens in Raleigh and helped the city develop a strong black middle class. Others spread throughout the state, country, and world to provide medical services to underserved communities.

After the medical school closed, Leonard Hall continued to serve as a classroom building until a fire destroyed the roof in 1986. It was not until 2000 that the building was restored with donations and a grant from the federal government. 

"For Shaw University and the black community, it stands out as one of the bastions of education for our people. We are very proud of it," Shaw President Dr. Talbert O. Shaw told WRAL at the time. 

Today, fully restored 137-year-old Leonard Hall serves as the home of the Shaw University Divinity School.