Louise Cecelia Fleming was the first African-American to graduate from the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was born on January 28, 1862, to slave parents on a plantation near Hibernia in Clay County, Florida. No information is known about her father; she was raised by her mother who worked as a maid in the plantation house.
Lulu Fleming completed her basic education and received training to teach. She taught for a while in the public school system in St. Augustine, Florida. In 1880, a visiting minister from Brooklyn, New York, was impressed by her knowledge of scriptures and her teaching, and encouraged her to attend Shaw University in North Carolina.
Fleming graduated from Shaw as class valedictorian on May 27, 1885. A year later, she received a request from the Women’s Baptist Foreign Missionary Society to represent them as a teacher in the Congo. Fleming was able to use her position to send Congolese students to Shaw University.
While working in the Congo, Fleming became seriously ill and had to return to the United States. Because she had become so gravely ill, she decided to enroll in the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia. After graduation, she served as a medical missionary to the Upper Congo.
Fleming worked as the only black woman doctor in a colony nearly one-third the size of the United States. She is best known for the quality of care she provided and the medical training she gave to many Congolese women and men. Fleming contracted African sleeping sickness and died in 1899.