Rebecca Lee Crumpler, 1831-1895

  • Rebecca-Lee-Crumpler-Book-Cover-WWP

Woman Category: HealthWoman Tags: African-American Women, Author, Greater Boston Women, Nurse, and Physician

  • HerStory

    Physician, nurse, and author. The first African-American woman physician in the US.

    Rebecca Lee Crumpler was born as Rebecca Davis in Christiana, Delaware, and was raised by her aunt in Pennsylvania. Growing up, she was inspired by her aunt, who acted as the community doctor, providing medical services and helping her sick neighbors. Crumpler was considered gifted in mathematics, and this permitted her to attend the prestigious private West-Newton English and Classical School in Massachusetts.
    At the age of 21, Crumpler moved to Charlestown, Massachusetts, where she met and wed her first husband, Wyatt Lee. With no requirements needed, Crumpler began to work as a nurse. During the next eight years, her talent and professionality impressed many of the doctors she worked with, who encouraged her to apply to medical school. In 1860, with letters of recommendation from her male doctor colleagues, Crumpler was accepted into the New England Female Medical College – the first and African American woman to attend the school. In 1864, at the age of 33, Crumpler graduated and was named a Doctor of Medicine, becoming the first African-American woman in the US to receive a medical degree.
    While in school, Crumpler’s husband died, and around the time she graduated, she married her second husband, Arthur Crumpler. The couple settled in Boston, and she practiced medicine, treating mostly poor African-American women and children. At the end of the Civil War, she moved to Richmond, Virginia, to treat former slaves who were denied medical care by white physicians. In addition to practicing medicine, she provided missionary service and took the opportunity to learn about women and children’s diseases.
    In 1869, Crumpler returned to Boston, where she treated the African-American community of Beacon Hill. She took care of anyone in need, epically children whose parents did not have the means to pay for medical services. At 43, she began to teach medicine in Delaware, and a few years later, she stopped practicing medicine, dedicating her time to write a medical book based on her notes from her career as a nurse and a physician. Published in 1883, her book, titled “A Book of Medical Discourses,” focuses on different medical care options for women and children. Crumpler died at the age of 64 of fibroid tumors.

    “My Blackness entered the room first, and my other attributes followed”

    “My Blackness entered the room first, and my other attributes followed”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She was an active member of the Twelfth Baptist Church.
    • Both of her husbands were former slaves.
    • She had one daughter.
    • She dedicated her book to nurses and mothers.
    • Historians believe that she didn’t know that she was the first African-American woman physician in the US.
    • As the only black female doctor, she constantly suffered from racism, sexism, and rude behavior from her colleagues, and pharmacists often denied her prescriptions.
    • Her house at 67 Joy St in Boston is a stop on the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail.
    • The Rebecca Lee Society, one of the first medical societies for African-American women, was named in her honor.
    • The Rebecca Lee Pre-Health Society pre-health club named at Syracuse University is named in her honor.
    • March 30 – National Doctors Day – declared as Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler Day in Virginia.
    • In 2020, a granite engraved stone was placed on her grave in Fairview Cemetery in Boston.
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  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Voices of the Civil War Episode 25: "Rebecca Lee Crumpler"

    On February 24, 1864, Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler overcame prejudices and severe constraints to become the first African American woman in the United States to earn a medical degree. During and after the Civil War, she cared for freed African Americans who would otherwise have had no access to medical care.

  • The cover of the Book of Medical Discourses by her. Photo credit - Wikipedia

  • Citations and Additional References:
    Changing the Face of Medicine website.
    Wikipedia page.