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Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was born on February 8, 1831, in Delaware. Crumpler always had a skill for nursing and caregiving, but she made history when she became the first African-American woman to earn a medical degree.
Crumpler was raised by her aunt in Pennsylvania, who often helped care for sick people in the neighborhood. It was during this early exposure to caregiving that made Crumpler want to dedicate her career to relieving the suffering of others. In 1852, Crumpler moved to Charlestown, Ma. and became a nurse. However, she had more than nursing in mind for herself.
In 1860, she applied to medical school and was accepted into the New England Female Medical College. The medical school was based in Boston and was a part of the New England Hospital for Women and Children. It was also the first school in the country to train women M.D.s. Dr. Crumpler graduated from New England Female Medical College and became the first female African-American doctor.
After graduating in 1864, Crumpler established a medical practice for low-income children and women in Boston, but she relocated to Richmond, Va., when the Civil War ended in 1865. While in Virginia, Crumpler worked with the Freedmen’s Bureau and other organizations to tend to formerly enslaved African-Americans. Despite the strides she made, Crumpler still had to endure both racism and sexism in her field.
In 1869, Crumpler returned to Boston with her husband and continued practicing medicine in her predominantly African-American neighborhood. However, the two moved again and settled in Hyde Park, New York, where Crumpler published A Book of Medical Discourses in 1883. Her writing was one of the first works concerning medicine that was published by an African-American. The book was a compilation of notes she had taken while working in the medical field, and it provided advice on treating illnesses in infants, young children and women of childbearing age.
Rebecca Lee Crumpler died on March 9, 1895, in Boston. Crumpler was a pioneer and nearly 100 years after her death, Doctors Saundra Maass-Robinson and Patricia established the Rebecca Lee Society. It was one of the first African-American medical societies exclusively for women and provided support to physicians. Crumpler’s home has also been included on the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail.