High Schooler Helps NC's First Female Doctor Get Recognition

Dec 20, 2016

A high school student from eastern North Carolina has helped the state's first licensed female doctor receive more recognition in Charlotte. The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources unveiled a historical marker in uptown Tuesday celebrating Dr. Annie Alexander, who started treating patients in the late 1800s.

When Serena Chu was searching for a National History Day project, one person’s story caught her eye.  

“I saw a summary of Dr. Annie's life and I was really interested because she was the first female physician in North Carolina, and I too want to join the medical field,” Chu said.

Chu wants to become a nurse. She’s a junior in high school in Greenville, and her history teacher, Jennie Bryan, helped her research Dr. Annie Alexander.

“She tracked down and pursued a series of primary source documents about Dr. Annie,” Bryan said. “That included newspaper clippings from the time period when Dr. Annie was living and first began practicing.”

Alexander was born in 1864 near Cornelius. Her father was a doctor and encouraged her to pursue that career. She went to Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia. And in 1885, she became the first female physician licensed to practice in North Carolina. She spent most of her career in Charlotte.

And now, what started with Chu’s research has led to an official state marker in uptown.

From left: NC Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz, Serena Chu, a male descendant of Dr. Annie Alexander, and Charlotte City Council member Patsy Kinsey stand under the new marker.
Credit Michael Tomsic

Chu drove three and a half hours to help unveil it. The silver and black aluminum marker is on Tryon Street near Seventh Street, close to where Alexander’s home office once stood.

Secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Susan Kluttz, thanked Chu for proposing that Alexander deserved this recognition.

“It’s our hope that this marker preserves the memory of Annie Alexander and her place in North Carolina history for generations to come,” Kluttz said.

With a big smile, Chu said she’s shocked this actually happened.

“I didn't expect to go this far with the project, so yeah, I'm really honored and happy now,” she said.

Her teacher, Jennie Bryan, says she couldn’t be more proud of her.

“Serena has played a role in marking history,” Bryan says. “This will show her - and hopefully be an example to other students - that studying history is very much an active and ongoing field.”

It’s also one that has surprises. Chu found out that Alexander encouraged young women beyond North Carolina. Alexander traded letters with a female student in China interested in medicine.

Chu says once she becomes a nurse, she also wants to help people in different countries.