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Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler – #DiversityInHealthcare

Diversity in Healthcare

Throughout the fall semester, we will be highlighting #DiversityInHealthcare on our social media. This week we are focusing on Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first African-American woman physician in the U.S.

Born Rebecca Davis in Delaware on February 8, 1831, Rebecca was raised by an aunt in Pennsylvania, who spent much of her time caring for the ill and may have influenced her career choice.

By 1852 she had moved to Charlestown, Massachusetts, where she worked as a nurse for the next eight years. In 1860, she was admitted to the New England Female Medical College. When she graduated in 1864, Rebecca was the first African American woman in the United States to earn an M.D. degree, and the only African American woman to graduate from the New England Female Medical College (the school closed its doors in 1873.).

A few statistics help put her remarkable achievement in perspective. In 1860, there were only 300 women out of 54,543 physicians in the United States and none of them were African-American. As late as 1920, there were only 65 African-American women doctors in the United States.

Dr. Crumpler practiced in Boston for a short while before moving to Richmond, Virginia, after the Civil War ended in 1865. 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.

In 1883, Crumpler published A Book of Medical Discourses from the notes she kept over the course of her medical career. Dedicated to nurses and mothers, it focused on the medical care of women and children.

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 is one of the very first medical publications by an African American.

Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler died on March 9, 1895.

https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_73.html

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/celebrating-rebecca-lee-crumpler-first-african-american-physician

Post written by Stefanie Lapka.

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