Rebecca Lee Crumpler

by Aisha from New Haven


Even as a child, Rebecca Lee Crumpler had a passion for helping those in need. This passion would aid her in becoming the first African-American woman to earn a medical degree. She endured many obstacles and hardships before she reached her goal. However, in the end she got her medical degree and became one of the first African-Americans to have a medical publication.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler was born in 1833 in Richmond, Virginia. She was raised in Pennsylvania by her aunt. Her aunt spent a great deal of time caring for the sick in her community. She was probably Crumpler's greatest inspiration for becoming a doctor. In her 1883 publication, she stated, "...having been reared by a kind aunt in Pennsylavania, whose usefulness with the sick was continually sought, I early conceived a liking for, and sought every opportunity to relieve the sufferings of others." In 1852, she moved to Charlestown, Massachusetts, and began working as a nurse. She continued this work for another eight years. Many of the doctors she served under suggested that she enter the New England Female Medical College in Boston. In 1859, she took their advice and was admitted to this institution.

Although Crumpler was admitted to the college, she still had many other obstacles to overcome. In 1861, at the outbreak of the Civil War, Crumpler was forced to quit her studies and was "relocated" to Richmond, Virginia. She returned to college in 1863 only to discover that her financial aid was forfeited. Thankfully, she won a tuition award from the Wade Scholarship Fund, which was established by the Ohio abolitionist, Benjamin Wade. As a result, she was able to complete her studies and earned her medical degree in 1864.

After receiving her degree, Crumpler moved her practice to Richmond, Virginia, in 1865 at the end of the Civil War. While she was there, she worked with the Freedmen's Bureau, and missionary and community groups to provide medical care to newly freed slaves. She later returned to Boston to practice. She then focused her career on the treatment of illnesses affecting women and children. This focus led to her writing a manual for women about providing medical care for themselves and their children. In 1883, her book, "A Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts," was published. It was one of the first medical publications written by an African-American. The little that is known about the life of Rebecca Lee Crumpler comes from the introduction in this book.

In her lifetime, Rebecca Lee Crumpler accomplished not one, but two remarkable achievements. She fought against racism, prejudice, and other difficult obstacles to obtain a medical degree. In addition, she became a published author, which was nearly unheard of for African-Americans at the time (it was even more rare for African-American women). She will long be remembered for her achievements and as a pioneer for those who would follow in her footsteps.

Page created on 1/28/2009 2:58:18 PM

Last edited 1/28/2009 2:58:18 PM

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