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Rebecca Lee Crumpler

Page history last edited by Brennan Sanford 10 years, 3 months ago

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler

             By: Brennan Sanford 


     Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler (b. 8 February, 1831- d. 9 March, 1895) was the first black woman to earn a Medical Degree in the United States. She completed her degree in 1864 when she graduated from the New England Female Medical College. Crumpler also went on to write A Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts in 1883, a book with medical advice for women and children. While few lived to tell Crumpler’s story, her book managed to secure her place in history, as it was one of the first medical books to be published by a black woman.



     Crumpler was born as Rebecca Lee Davis was born on February 8, 1831 and was the daughter of Absolum Davis and Matilda Webber. She was born in Delaware; however, Crumpler was mostly raised by her aunt in Pennsylvania. As a young girl, Crumpler spent most of her time caring for sick neighbors. In A Book of Medical Discourses, Crumpler stated this was where she learned to enjoy helping those who were in pain and began to look for every chance to do so.

     By 1852, Crumpler had moved to Charlestown, Massachusetts where she worked as a nurse under many different doctors for eight years without any form of actual training. It was from these doctors that she received recommendation letters for college. As a result, in the year 1860, Crumpler went to school at the New England Female Medical College, the first college in the world made for women.

     Crumpler studied there for a year until the start of the Civil War in 1861, which forced her to put her studies on hold. She returned to her studies in 1863, only to find out that she had lost her financial aid. Luckily, she was able to continue going to school thanks to a scholarship named the Wade Scholarship Fund. This fund allowed Crumpler to complete her degree and graduate in 1864; becoming the first black woman with an M.D.. It is speculated that her opportunity to earn her degree may be partially due to the large number of injured veterans that was caused by the civil war.

     Rebecca Lee Crumpler married Arthur Crumpler in the same year as her graduation and practiced medicine in Boston until the end of the Civil War in 1865. She then moved to Richmond Virginia in order to practice and improve her medical skills through the Freedman’s Bureau, despite the fact that black physicians experienced intense racism in the now post-war south. Crumpler used the opportunity to learn more about the diseases that affected women and children and to help freed slaves that would not have access to medical care otherwise.

     Crumpler and her husband later moved to Boston in 1869, the place Crumpler considered home, and lived on 20 Garden Street. It was there that she practiced medicine by working out of her own house to treat injured or sick women, children, and the poor. In 1880, Crumpler moved to Hyde Park, Massachusetts and later stopped her medical practice in 1881. She then spent her time compiling her notes from her medical practice in Richmond, Virginia and in Boston, Massachusetts to write A Book on Medical Discourses, the first medical book to be published by a black woman. Rebecca Lee Crumpler died March 9, 1895 at the age of 64 in Fairview, Massachusetts.


Contributions to STEM

           Crumpler’s book, A Book of Medical Discourses, is a book she wrote using her journal that she kept throughout her years of practicing medicine. The book, includes a short introduction explaining Crumpler’s early life and career path, and provides advice and information for women and nurses who are raising or taking care of infants, along with prevention and cures for many diseases. Information provided in the book range from dressing and bathing a newborn to breast feeding and prevention of common diseases such as cholera.


Interesting Facts

  • No pictures of Rebecca Lee Crumpler have ever been found. As such, no one knows what Crumpler actually looked like aside from a description of her in her 60s from the Twelfth Baptist Church on Phillips Street as “tall and straight, with light brown skin and gray hair.
  • Crumpler was the only black person to ever graduate from the New England Female Medical College, as the school later closed in 1873 due to financial problems. The school eventually merged with Boston University within the same year.

  • The title of first black physician formerly went to a different woman by the name of Dr. Rebecca Cole. This was of course changed when records showed that Crumpler completed her degree three years prior to Cole’s.

  • Many sources have Rebecca Crumpler’s address in Boston listed incorrectly. While many places list her address as 67 Joy Street on Beacon Hill, Anthony W. Neal of the Bay State Banner did extensive research into Crumpler’s life (even going as far as to check the directories) and found her address listed as 20 Garden Street. He also discovered that Crumpler’s husband was not a doctor (another thing listed incorrectly). In fact, he was actually born a slave, unlike Crumpler.

  • The Rebecca Lee Society  was founded in 1989 in Crumpler’s honor by Dr. Saundra Maass-Robinson and Patricia Whitley. The organization was created to support black female physicians.


Impact to 21st Century Culture and Society

           Rebecca Lee Crumpler many challenges to accomplish two tasks never done before by black women; earning a medical degree and publishing her own book. Crumpler’s accomplishments serves as proof to people of different backgrounds and ethnicities that anything is possible, even when few have done it before. Her book, “A Book of Medical Discourses,” has provided help for many and its information is used in many medical sources today.



Works Cited

"Changing the Face of Medicine | Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler." U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine,  Web.


"Crumpler, Rebecca. A Book of Medical Discourses. Boston: Cashman, Keating & Co., 1883., Harvard University Library PDS." Harvard University Library. Web.


Holt, Karen. "Rebecca Lee Davis Was the First Black American Woman to Become an M.D." Examiner.com. Web.


Kelly, Kate. "Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831-1895), Physician." America Comes Alive Rebecca Lee Crumpler 1831-1895 Physician.


Neal, Anthony W. "Dr. Crumpler: Nation's First African American Woman Physician."Bay State Banner. N.p., 5 Sept. 2012.


"Rebecca Lee Crumpler, M.D. (1831-1895)." Boston University School of Medicine Academies of Advisors RSS. Web.


Saint, Sylvain. Female Medical College & Homeopathic Medical College of Pennsylvania. Web

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