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Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler (February 8,1831 – March 9, 1895) was an American physician. She was the first African American woman to become a physician in the United States. (Rebecca Cole was the second and Susan McKinney Steward the third.) Her publication of A Book of Medical Discourses in 1883 was one of the first by an African American about medicine.
When she graduated in 1864, Crumpler 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, which merged with Boston University in 1873. Crumpler was born in 1831 and raised by an aunt who spent much of her time caring for infirm neighbors. The aunt likely influenced her choice to go into the medical profession, especially since medical care for the needs of poor blacks was almost non-existent during the antebellum years.
In her A Book of Medical Discourses (1883), Crumpler gives a summary of her career path:
“It may be well to state here that, having been reared by a kind aunt in Pennsylvania, whose usefulness with the sick was continually sought, I early conceived a liking for, and sought every opportunity to relieve the sufferings of others. Later in life I devoted my time, when best I could, to nursing as a business, serving under different doctors for a period of eight years (from 1852 to 1860); most of the time at my adopted home in Charlestown, Middlesex County, Massachusetts. From these doctors I received letters commending me to the faculty of the New England Female Medical College, whence, four years afterward, I received the degree of doctress of medicine.”
Crumpler practiced medicine in Boston for a short while before moving to Richmond, Virginia, after the American Civil War ended in 1865. In 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. During my stay there nearly every hour was improved in that sphere of labor. The last quarter of the year 1866, I was enabled . . . to have access each day to a very large number of the indigent, and others of different classes, in a population of over 30,000 colored.” 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 my services in that city,” she explained, “I returned to my former home, Boston, where I entered into the work with renewed vigor, practicing outside, and receiving children in the house for treatment; regardless, in a measure, of remuneration.”
Before returning to Boston, Rebecca married Dr. Arthur Crumpler. 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. Her 1883 book is based on journal notes she kept during her years of medical practice.
Hardly any images survive of Crumpler, and what little is known of 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 Lee Crumpler graduated from the New England Female Medical College on this date. Crumpler worked from 1852-1860 as a nurse in Massachusetts.
***All information courtesy of Wikipedia.org***