Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler
An Inspiring Example
Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first black woman in the US to obtain a medical degree. She was born in 1833 and raised by her aunt in Pennsylvania. Her aunt was an important caregiver in the community, known for providing medical assistance to sick neighbors. Perhaps it was this early influence that fostered Crumpler’s desire to serve others.
Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first black woman in the US to obtain a medical degree.
In 1852, Crumpler moved to Charlestown, MA where she became a nurse. The doctors she worked with were so impressed by her skill and expertise, that they submitted letters recommending that she be admitted to the New England Female Medical College (NEFMC). Dr. Samuel Gregory founded this college, originally named Boston Female Medical College, in 1848; it was the first institution in the world to provide medical training for women.
In 1860, Crumpler was admitted to the NEFMC. Her admission was quite unusual, particularly since most medical schools at that time did not admit blacks. In fact, her education was interrupted by the Civil war, which commenced in 1861. However, in 1864, Dr. Crumpler graduated from NEFMC, becoming the first black woman in the U.S. to earn an M.D. Degree. She has the distinction of being the ONLY black woman to graduate from NEFMC, as the school merged with the Boston University School of Medicine in 1874.
Dr. Rebecca Crumpler devoted her life to improving health in the black community through research and clinical work.
Crumpler practiced medicine in Boston for several years, but when the Civil war ended in 1865, she decided to moved to Richmond, VA to join other black physicians caring for freed slaves who would otherwise have had no access to medical care. Black physicians partnered with the Freedmen's Bureau, and missionary and community groups, even though they themselves experienced intense racism working in the postwar South. Dr. Crumpler likely also experienced incredible sexism, as the sentiment at that time was that women lacked the mental capacity to practice medicine. Her desire to provide healthcare for the population 30,000 freed blacks moved her to put her life in jeopardy.
Dr. Rebecca Crumpler devoted her life to improving health in the black community through research and clinical work. After serving the freed slaves in Virginia, she returned to Boston where she cared for women and children until her retirement. She lived and worked on Joy Street on Beacon Hill, which was primarily a black neighborhood. After retirement, she moved to Hyde Park, MA. In 1883, she published a text entitled 'Book of Medical Discourses'; this is one of the very first medical publications by a black American. Her book is based on journal notes she kept during her years of medical practice and was designed to help improve the care of women and children.
Dr. Crumpler died in 1895 of natural causes. February 8, 2021, will be the 188th anniversary of her birth. Please join me in celebrating the life of this remarkable woman who lived her entire life in the service of others.