(Jan. 30, 1874 -Jan. 18, 1953). Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Sumner A. Furniss moved to Indianapolis with his family as a small child. He attended public schools and graduated from Indianapolis High School (later renamed Shortridge High School). He also studied at the Lincoln Academy in Missouri, where his father was an instructor.

Dr. Sumner A. Furniss in his private office, n.d. Credit: The New York Public Library View Source

He began studying medicine in 1891 under Dr. E. S. Elder, a white physician. Concurrently, he attended the Medical College of Indiana, graduating second in his class in 1894. That same year he successfully competed for a City Hospital internship, becoming the first African American professional to serve at the hospital. He started his own practice the following year, eventually moving his office to 401 Indiana Avenue

Furniss continued his general practice for over 50 years. He was one of a handful of Black physicians to hold memberships in the Marion County and Indiana medical societies (see Indianapolis Medical Society and Indiana State Medical Association) and the American Medical Association until these organizations denied memberships to African Americans. In 1909, because they were denied admitting privileges at the city’s hospitals, Furniss and nine other Black physicians formed the Lincoln Hospital Association to establish a public-style hospital where they could treat their patients.

He was also active in politics in the early 1900s. From 1917 to 1921, Furniss served as the second African American on the City Council and was a member of the Marion County Republican executive committee.

In 1912, he was an alternate delegate to the Republican Party National Convention. He was a lifetime member of the Flanner House board and was a charter member and first president of the Senate Avenue YMCA.

His brother Dr. Henry Furniss, who was briefly associated in practice with him in Indianapolis, served as consul to Bahia during the McKinley administration and in 1906 was appointed as minister to Haiti under Theodore Roosevelt.

Revised February 2021

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