Robert Jones Abele was one of six founding members of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, the oldest African American Greek Letter Fraternity in the United States. The five others were Henry Minton, Algernon Jackson, Edwin Howard, Eugene Theodore Hinson, and Richard John Warrick, Jr. Abele was born on June 2, 1875 in Philadelphia. He comes from an old and distinguished family. One of his ancestors, Absalom Jones, was a founder of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, established in 1792. He is also descended from Clayton Durham, a co-founder with Richard Allen of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Conference in 1816 that organized the African Methodist Episcopal Church as the first predominantly Black religious denomination in the United States.
His distinguished family also includes his younger brother, Julian Francis Abele, the first African American graduate of Graduate School of Fine Arts in Philadelphia who later became a prominent architect famous for designing the campus of Duke University.
Robert Jones Abele was a graduate of the Institute for Colored Youth (now known as Cheyney University), class of 1890. After leaving the I. C. Y., he taught school at Belair, Maryland, for one year, and then matriculated to the Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia.
Archon Abele graduated at the top of his 1895 class at Hahnemann. He was the first black graduate of the institution and finished on the “Distinguished List.” Abele later earned the highest score ever awarded at that point on the state’s medical certification test, the Pennsylvania State Qualifying Examination for Physicians in 1897. His score was 97.3% out of 100%.
Medicine was Dr. Abele’s profession, and he excelled at it. He began the practice of medicine in Philadelphia at his home but he later was appointed one of the assistant surgeons at his Alma Mater, Hahnemann Medical College. Abele, the first African American to serve on the institution’s faculty, remained there for ten years. He was also a Founder of Mercy Hospital in 1909 while his private practice was one of the largest and most lucrative in Philadelphia.
Abele’s varied interests included art, music, books, and photography. He was also a regular contributor to many scientific journals.
Robert Abele married Rachel A. Walls, the daughter of Edward G. Wall and Lucy Ann Elbert. He died in Philadelphia on February 25, 1929 at the age of 54.
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Rodney J. Reed, A Grand Journey: The History of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, 1904-2000 (Atlanta: Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, 2021); Charles H. Wesley, History of Sigma Pi Phi: First of the Negro-American Greek Letter Fraternities (Atlanta: Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, 1993).