Blacks@Dartmouth 1775 to 1960

Isaac Humphrey Snowden

Physician and Liberian colonist

alumnus image

Dartmouth Medical School M.D.

Class of 1851

Born  1826  Boston MA

Died 1869 Liberia

Quotes from Biographical Sources

Isaac H. Snowden grew up in Boston as a free black man in a home where his father was a well-known and well-respected antislavery activist. It is likely that he attended the Abiel Smith School built in 1834–1835 to house the school for African American students. Snowden initially made his living as a book, newspaper, and fancy job printer. Following in his father's footsteps, he was involved in the antislavery and equal rights movements and was often elected as one of the secretaries of the various meetings held by these groups.

In the fall of 1850, following the death of Snowden's father, Isaac H. Snowden, Daniel Laing Jr., and Martin Robison Delany became the first African Americans to be admitted to Harvard University's Medical School. Snowden and Laing, who had already been studying with Dr. Henry Clarke, a surgeon on the staff of Massachusetts General Hospital, were being sponsored by the Massachusetts Colonization Society in preparation for traveling to Liberia, Africa, to serve as physicians for the African Americans who were emigrating to that country as a part of the colonization movement. This is somewhat ironic on the part of Snowden because his father was a very outspoken opponent of that movement. It appears, however, that the only way in which Snowden and Laing could practice medicine at the time was to agree to emigrate, partly because there were already several black physicians in Boston struggling to make a living. Further, their willingness to emigrate seems to have been a major factor in the decision to admit Snowden and Laing to Harvard.

But their tenure at the medical school was destined to be short. As the result of a protest raised by a number of students, although by no means a majority, the faculty determined that allowing African Americans to study in the same classrooms as white students was disruptive and not in the best interests of the school. Thus, Delany, Laing, and Snowden were only permitted to finish out the winter semester of classes in which they were already enrolled.

Snowden attended one series of lectures at Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1851 and then completed his medical studies with Dr. Clarke in Boston. He did reapply to Harvard once again in 1853, still under the auspices of the Massachusetts Colonization Society, but was once again refused admittance.

On 24 May 1854, Isaac H. Snowden and Daniel Laing Jr., having completed their medical education, sailed to Liberia on the ship Sophia Walke—Snowden to serve in Sinou County and Laing on the St. Paul River. The following year, Dr. Snowden returned to the United States and on 24 December 1855 he sailed back to Liberia on the barque Lamartine, bringing with him his mother, wife, daughter, and a sister, Mrs. A. A. Williams.

Thompson, Patricia J. (2008). Snowden, Isaac Humphrey. In Henry Louis Gates Jr. & Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (Eds.), African American National Biography. New York. Retrieved from