Physician, hospital administrator. Born in Columbia on May 1, 1855, McClennan was orphaned and raised by his uncle Edward Thompson. He attended Benedict Institute and served state senator Richard Cain as a page for three years. When Cain was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, McClennan parlayed his association with the congressman into an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1873.
Initially, McClennan was optimistic about his experience as only the second African American admitted to the academy. His light skin, blond hair, and blue eyes did not long protect his racial identity. Previously affable fellow classmen became cold, distant, and vindictive when he was discovered to have African blood. A series of incidents convinced McClennan to leave Annapolis in “disgust at caste prejudice” during his first year. He accepted admission to the Wesleyan Academy in Wilbraham, Massachusetts.
McClennan’s stay was brief as he returned home to attend the University of South Carolina in 1875. The return of Democratic control of politics in South Carolina forced McClennan to leave school yet again in 1876. In 1877 he entered Howard University, where he graduated with honors from the school of pharmacy and medicine in 1880. He opened his medical practice in Augusta, Georgia, where he married Ida Veronica Ridley in 1883. In 1884 McClennan relocated to Charleston, South Carolina, where he established the city’s first African American drugstore, the People’s Pharmacy, in 1892.
In the fall of 1896 McClennan organized a meeting of African American physicians to discuss the establishment of a “nurse training school for Negro women.” Jim Crow legislation prevented the training of African Americans at Roper Hospital, and McClennan realized the need for a teaching hospital that could serve the community. He mobilized black and white Charlestonians, and in 1897 the Hospital and Training School for Nurses opened at 135 Cannon Street.
McClennan served as director and surgeon-in-charge. He earned a reputation for running his hospital with an iron hand. He believed that “strict discipline” gave donors confidence in the management and the institution. McClennan’s draconian policies were largely checked by his identification, dedication, and personal support of the school. From 1898 to 1900 McClennan edited the Hospital Herald, a journal designed to assist in the professional training of nurses and the promotion of domestic and public hygiene. He believed that Charleston’s medical community would benefit from having a vehicle through which the physicians and nurses could correspond and exchange observations.
McClennan was a vocal leader in the African American community. He was keenly aware of the importance of African Americans patronizing African American businesses. He lamented that preachers and editorials were necessary to impress upon people to do what “they know to be their plain duty.” He told black Charlestonians, “We cannot hope to amount to much as a people, especially in business and the professions, unless we have a sufficient interest in our own young men who depend upon us to give the encouragement and support.” McClennan died in Charleston on October 4, 1912.
Gatewood, William B., Jr. “Alonzo Clifton McClennan: Black Midshipman from South Carolina, 1873–1874.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 89 (January 1988): 24–39.
Savitt, Todd L. “Walking the Color Line: Alonzo McClennan, the Hospital Herald, and Segregated Medicine in Turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century Charleston, South Carolina.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 104 (October 2003): 228–57.