William A. Hinton was born on December 15, 1883, in Chicago, Illinois. His parents had both been enslaved. He entered Harvard College in 1902 and graduated in 1905. Between college and medical school, Hinton taught at Walden University in Nashville, Tennessee, the Agricultural and Mechanical College in Langston, Oklahoma, and Meharry Medical College, and continued his own education during the summer at the University of Chicago. He entered HMS in 1909 and completed the MD degree in 1912. Hinton was awarded the Hayden scholarship, reserved for African American students, but turned it down and competed for and was awarded the Wigglesworth Scholarship. He wanted to specialize in surgery, but after being denied by Boston-area hospitals, turned to the laboratory.
In 1912, Dr. Hinton began working part-time as a volunteer assistant in the Department of Pathology at Massachusetts General Hospital, and for three years he performed autopsies on all persons suspected of having syphilis. He then worked at the Wassermann Laboratory, which was the Massachusetts State Laboratory for communicable diseases at HMS. During this time, Dr. Hinton developed a new serological test for syphilis, known as the Hinton test, which became the standard.
Learn more in this Portrait of a Pioneer article.