Black History Month: William Edward Allen, Jr


Born in 1903, William Edward Allen, Jr is credited as the first Black certified X-Ray technician. He’s been credited with considerable contributions to medicine, particularly in nuclear medicine and radiation therapy for cancer patients. 

Allen enrolled Howard University in 1923 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the ROTC. Shortly after that, he joined the University Symphony Orchestra, playing the violin at Calvin Coolidge’s inauguration. Four years later, he earned his B.S. in chemistry from Howard and then graduated with his medical degree in 1930. 

He interned at St. Louis City Hospital #2 and spent his residency in radiology. In the middle of his residency, St. Mary’s Infirmary of St. Louis began accepting Black patients and Allen was named radiologist in chief and founded a school for x-ray technicians. 

In 1934, Allen submitted a membership into the Radiological Society of North America, but his application was rejected. In 1935, he was named as an approved specialist in Radiology, and was just the fifth Black American given this honor. Four years later, while sitting for his board exams, he wasn’t even allowed to ride the hotel’s main elevator, instead required to take the freight elevator, even though he was a member of the American College of Radiology. 

Some of Allen’s other noted accomplishments include:

  • First Black American to receive fellowship in the American College of Radiology
  • Editorial Board of the JNMA
  • First violin and clarinet in the St. Louis Little Symphony Orchestra
  • Battalion surgeon for the 366th infantry in the Army Reserve
  • Radiologist in chief at Fort Huachuca Station Hospital
  • Began AFS-WAC school for X-ray techs for Black women serving in WWII
  • Radiologist consultant to the War Department
  • Founded the School of Technology at Homer G. Phillips Hospital
  • Elected first chairman of the Section of Radiology of the National Medical Association
  • Fellow of Inter-American College of Radiology and American Medical Association
  • Homer G. Phillips Award
  • Special Citation and Special Silver Plaque from the St. Louis branch of the NAACP
  • Distinguished Public Service Award of the St. Louis Argus
  • Outstanding Service Award of the Homer G. Phillips Hospital Interns Alumni Association
  • American Cancer Society Award
  • Distinguished Service Award from National Medical Association
  • Gold Medal from the American College of Radiology
  • The William E. Allen Jr, MD Annual Lecture of the Section on Radiology is named after him and still occurs yearly
  • The library of the Howard University radiology department is named after him, as well as the radiotherapy suite of Homer G. Phillips hospital
  • Outstanding Service Award from the Howard University College of Medicine

Allen passed away in 1981 from stomach cancer, one of the diseases he treated throughout his career. We’re honored to celebrate his trailblazing career and advancements in radiology.

Come back next week as we highlight other prominent Black contributions to medicine.