WESTBOROUGH – The neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques in the brain tissue of the autopsies he performed fascinated Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller, the first black psychiatrist in the United States.
In the early 1900s in his pathology lab at Westborough State Hospital, Fuller came to an astounding conclusion that confirmed the work of his mentor, Dr. Alois Alzheimer. The dementia he observed in the patients was caused by a physical rather than a mental disease of the brain.
Fuller was one of five doctors selected to study with Alzheimer in Germany in 1904. He returned to Westborough State Hospital to continue his trailblazing research on dementia, work he continued for the next twenty years.
A son of freed slaves and born in Liberia in 1872, Fuller came to the United States in 1889 to pursue a medical degree. He received a degree from New York’s Livingston College, then went on to graduate from Boston University Medical School in 1897. His interest was in the new field of neuropathology.
Fuller was then hired as an intern in pathology at Westborough State Hospital for two years. When he learned that a less-experienced white doctor earned more than he did, Fuller negotiated for his own laboratory in place of a raise.
He continued as a pathologist at Westborough State Hospital for the next twenty years, taught at Boston University Medical School for 34 years, and maintained a private practice in Framingham.
In 1919 he married the revolutionary sculptress Meta Vaux Warrick, and they settled in Framingham. A student of Rodin in Paris, Meta Fuller gained an international reputation for work, now displayed at the Danforth Art Museum in Framingham.
Fuller fought racism all his life.
He noted, “With the sort of work I have done, I might have gone farther and reached a higher plane had it not been for the color of my skin.”
Fuller died in 1953 at age 80.
In 1976, the Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Center was dedicated in South Boston. To honor this pioneer who blazed new scientific and racial pathways at Westborough State Hospital, the Westborough Select Board named the scenic drive along Lake Chauncy “Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller Way” in 2017.