On day 10 of my Black History challenge, I chose to write about Rebecca Lee Crumpler. A medical pioneer of her time, the first African American woman to earn a degree in medicine as a physician.
Rebecca Lee Crumpler was born in 1831 in Delaware. She was raised by an aunt in Pennsylvania, who spent much of her time caring for sick neighbors and may have influenced Crumpler's career choice. Very little more was recorded about Crumpler's childhood.
In 1852, at the age of 21, she had moved to Charlestown, Massachusetts, where she worked as a nurse for the next eight years. The first formal school for nursing did not open until 1873, so she was able to work without any formal training.
In 1860, she was admitted to the New England Female Medical College. When she graduated in 1864 with an M.D. degree, Crumpler became the first African American woman in the United States to be a doctor, and the only African American woman to graduate from the New England Female Medical College, which closed in 1873.
Dr. Crumpler practiced in Boston for a short while before moving to Richmond, Virginia, after the Civil War ended in 1865. Richmond, she felt, would be
"a proper field for real missionary work, and one that would present ample opportunities to become acquainted with the diseases of women and children."She joined other black physicians caring for freed slaves who would otherwise have had no access to medical care, working with the Freedmen's Bureau, and missionary and community groups, even though black physicians experienced intense racism working in the postwar South.
At the close of Crumpler's services in Richmond, she returned to her former home, Boston. She entered into the work with renewed vigor, practicing outside, and receiving children in the house for treatment; regardless, in a measure, of remuneration." She lived on Joy Street on Beacon Hill, then a mostly black neighborhood. By 1880 she had moved to Hyde Park, Massachusetts, and was no longer in active practice.
No photos or other images survive of Dr. Crumpler. The little we know about her comes from the introduction to her book, a remarkable mark of her achievements as a physician and medical writer in a time when very few African Americans were able to gain admittance to medical college, let alone publish. Her book "Book of Medical Discourses", published in 1883; is one of the very first medical publications by an African American.
Although there is very little information on Dr. Crumpler, her accomplishments left a tremendous mark on history.