Dr. Charles W. Ellis was Saginaw’s first African American physician, and graduated from the Detroit College of Medicine in 1889, before the college was part of Wayne State University.
Born September 10, 1862 in Adrian, Michigan, Charles’s family moved to Saginaw City when he was a toddler. By 1868 his father, Charles W. Ellis, Sr. was the headwaiter at the Taylor House which became the Fordney Hotel. Charles, Sr. later became a favorite caterer and respected African American leader and activist himself. Charles, Jr. attended and graduated from Saginaw City High School, Olivet College and then graduated from Detroit College of Medicine with honors in 1889.
In the mid-1880s, C. W. Ellis, Jr. was a medical student with Dr. Benjamin Ross, a prominent physician who was one of the first doctors at St. Mary’s Hospital in 1874. Dr. Ross served as a mentor, friend and eventually a colleague to Charles with a joint office on Genesee Avenue. In 1890 and 1891 Dr. Ross and Dr. Ellis toured Europe where Charles continued his medical studies for six months in London, Paris and Berlin. After Dr. Ross’ death, Dr. Ellis inherited both Dr. Ross’ practice and home at 522 S. Jefferson Avenue.
Dr. Ellis was the physician for the former St. Vincent’s Orphans’ Home; health officer of the Saginaw Traction (Transit) Company-an electrical trolley; Health Officer for the east side of Saginaw from 1892 until 1896; and on the St. Mary’s Hospital staff where he lectured about x-rays and other topics. His patients included noted Saginaw families: Atwood, Heavenrich, Seitner, Webber, Wickes and others.
With community issues, Dr. Ellis was appointed by Governor Pingree as a “delegate of white and colored Americans in Omaha,” he helped in establishing a lodge of Colored Masons; was doctor manager of the Doctor-Lawyer baseball game and was a friend and confidant of Saginaw African Americans Wallace Goodridge, photographer and William Quincy Atwood, a successful real estate agent and political activist.
In 1908, Dr. Ellis died of pneumonia at forty-eight years of age. The headline of the Saginaw Courier Herald on April 21, 1908 read “Pay Tribute to Dr. C. W. Ellis: Resolutions of Appreciation Passed by Saginaw County Medical Association.” Six physicians served as pallbearers. Dr. Ellis had served Saginaw for nineteen years and was highly admired by the community.
Inducted into the Saginaw County Hall of Fame in 2018.
Copyright © 2018 Saginaw County Hall of Fame - All Rights Reserved.