On this Date;
Feb. 24, 1864
First African-American woman to become a physician in the United States
Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler
Born: February 8, 1831
Died: March 9, 1895
was an American physician.
In 1831, Rebecca Davis Lee was born in Delaware to Matilda Webber and Absolum Davis. She was raised in Pennsylvania by an aunt who cared for infirm neighbors. She moved to Charlestown, Massachusetts, by 1852 and was employed as a nurse until she was accepted into the New England Female Medical College in 1860.
When she graduated Feb. 24, 1864, Rebecca Lee (later Crumpler) was the first African-American woman in the United States to earn a Doctor of Medicine degree, and the only African-American woman to graduate from New England Female Medical College.
Crumpler first practiced medicine in Boston, primarily for poor women and children. During this time she “sought training in the ‘British Dominion'”.
After the American Civil War ended in 1865, she moved to Richmond, Virginia, believing it to 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.
Crumpler worked for the Freedmen’s Bureau to provide medical care to freed slaves; She was subject to “intense racism”: “men doctors snubbed her, druggist balked at filling her prescriptions, and some people wisecracked that the M.D. behind her name stood for nothing more than ‘Mule Driver'”.
Rebecca married Dr. Arthur Crumpler around the time of her graduation. She “entered into the work with renewed vigor, practicing outside, and receiving children in the house for treatment; regardless, in a measure, of remuneration.”
She was no longer practicing medicine by 1883 when she wrote A Book of Medical Discourses from the notes she kept over the course of her medical career. It was dedicated to nurses and mothers, and focused on the medical care of women and children.
Crumpler died on March 9, 1895.
The Rebecca Lee Society, one of the first medical societies for African-American women, was named in her honor.