Eliza Ann Grier was an emancipated slave who faced racial discrimination and financial hardship while pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor. To pay for her medical education, she alternated every year of her studies with a year of picking cotton. It took her seven years to graduate. In 1898 she became the first African American woman licensed to practice medicine in the state of Georgia, and although she was plagued with financial difficulties throughout her education and her career, she fought tenaciously for her right to earn a living as a woman doctor.
Eliza Grier wrote to the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in December of 1890 to inquire about the cost of medical school there, and whether there would be any work she could do that would not interfere with her studies. "I have no money and no source from which to get it," she said, "only as I work for every dollar." Grier had spent seven years working and studying to become a teacher at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, but she believed she could be of most benefit to her race by getting a medical education. She asked the dean of the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania whether "any possible way...might be provided for an emancipated slave to receive any help into so lofty a profession." She was admitted to the college, and alternated coursework with periods of working to earn tuition. She completed her studies in 1897, and later that year was licensed to practice medicine in Fulton County, Georgia.
According to a notice in the North American Medical Review in 1898, when Grier applied for a medical license in Georgia, she became the first African American woman admitted to practice in the state. "When I saw colored women doing all the work in cases of accouchement [childbirth]," she was quoted as saying, "and all the fee going to some white doctor who merely looked on, I asked myself why should I not get the fee myself. For this purpose I have qualified. I went to Philadelphia, studied medicine hard, procured my degree, and have come back to Atlanta, where I have lived all my life, to practice my profession. Some of the best white doctors in the city have welcomed me, and say that they will give me an even chance in the profession. That is all I ask."
During her tragically brief career, Grier was able to call on a number of distinguished supporters to enlist financial aid, including A.W. Whitaker, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, who wrote her a recommendation to support her application to the Woman's Medical College. When she fell ill in 1901, Grier was unable to keep up her medical practice and so wrote to Susan B. Anthony, leader of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, to ask for her help. Throughout her struggle to qualify and to practice medicine, Grier never gave up. When she died after only a few years in practice, she had achieved a remarkable feat. Despite being an emancipated slave with little money or education, she went to a leading medical school, and became the first African American woman licensed to practice medicine in Georgia.