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Rebecca Lee Crumpler: First African-American Woman to Become a Physician

Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler is the first African-American woman to earn a medical degree. She was also the first African-American to publish a text concerning medical discourse. The text, A Book of Medical Discourses was published in 1883.

Rebecca Davis Lee was born in 1831 in Delaware. Crumpler was raised in Pennsylvania by an aunt who provided care for sick people. In 1852, Crumpler moved to Charlestown, Ma. and was hired as a nurse. Crumpler desired to do more than nursing. In her book, A Book of Medical Discourses, she wrote, “I really conceived a liking for, and sought every opportunity to relieve the suffering of others.”

In 1860, she was accepted into the New England Female Medical College. Following her graduation in medicine, Crumpler became the first African-American woman to earn a Doctor of Medicine degree at for the New England Female Medical College.

After graduating in 1864, Crumpler established a medical practice in Boston for poor women and children.

Crumpler also received training in the “British Dominion.”

When the Civil War ended in 1865, Crumpler relocated to Richmond, Va. She argued that it was “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.

Soon after her arrival in Richmond, Crumpler began working for the-the Freedmen’s Bureau as well as other missionary and community groups. Working alongside other African-American physicians, Crumpler was able to provide healthcare to recently freed slaves. Crumpler experienced  racism and sexism. She describes the ordeal she endured by saying, men doctors snubbed her, druggist balked at filling her prescriptions, and some people wisecracked that the M.D. behind her name stood for

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