Dr. William Anderson Burns

William Anderson BurnsDr. William Anderson "Bud" Burns was born around 1873 to Anderson and Mary Ella Burns (neé Finley) and grew up in Dayton, Ohio. Little is known about his early years except the misfortune of both his parent dying when he was around 8 to 9 years old. After the death of his parents, young Burns was fostered by Civil War Veteran Captain Charles Stivers, principal of Central High School and namesake of Stivers High School for the Arts.

While a young man, Burns attended the school of his foster father, Central High School. Here, he met another young man, a mere year or two older than he, named Paul Laurence Dunbar. Allegedly, both Burns and Dunbar were the only two Black students at the high school located on the corner of Fourth and Wilkinson, and, as such, the two became fast friends. They made their way through high school maintaining a close friendship, with Burns likely looking up to Dunbar as a mentor as he was the younger of the two.

By 1893 Burns was studying medicine under Dr. J. C. Reeve in Dayton, who was one of the first vice to president and one of the first organizers of the American Gynecological Society, a leader in anesthetics, and, at one time, was president of the Ohio State Society. With all these accomplishments, Dr. Reeve had plenty to teach Burns. After some time studying under Dr. Reeve, Burns made his way to Western Reserve University in Cleveland to study at their school of medicine. He returned to Dayton in 1898 and became the first Black doctor in the city.

Physician's Certificate for William Anderson BurnsAll the while Burns was studying away, he maintained his friendship with Paul Laurence Dunbar. Indeed, when Dunbar became ill with Tuberculosis in 1900, Dr. Burns accompanied him up to the Catskills for health retreats. While one might think Dunbar would be the first to die with an illness such as tuberculosis, he was not. Tragically, Dr. Burns met the same fate as his parents to dying at a young age. Dr. William Anderson "Bud" Burns passed away in 1905 at only 32 years old from Typhoid Fever.

As close as they were in life, Burns and Dunbar remained close in death. Both men are interred in Dayton's Woodland Cemetery to Burns in section 33 and Dunbar in section 100. Although only 32 when he died, Burns lived an extraordinary life. Not only was he the first African American doctor in Dayton, he was also named a Trustee of the Dayton Academy of Medicine in 1903 and 1904, and was a Captain and an assistant surgeon in the Ohio National Guard. Dr. Burns must have been a beloved member of the medical field, indeed, as his death is noted in an issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association stating, "At a special meeting at the Academy of Medicine, it was voted to attend the funeral in a body, and resolutions of sorrow and respect were adopted."


  • "Deaths." Journal of the American Medical Association. Number 45, December 2, 1905, p 1750.
  • DeLuca, Leo. "Doctor to a Poet." Dayton Magazine. December 2016 / January 2017.
  • DeLuca, Leo. "The Poet's Doctor: The Friendship of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Dr. William Burns." 91.3 WYSO. 27 April 2018.
  • Montgomery County Probate Court Record of Physicians Certificates, William Anderson Burns, page 116.
  • Sally Derby. Jump Back, Paul: The Life and Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. 2015.