Rebecca Lee Crumpler

by Valerie from San Diego

The only known image of Rebecca Lee Crumpler (

The only known image of Rebecca Lee Crumpler












"Hard times don't create heroes. It is during the hard times when the 'hero' within us is revealed" is a quote by Bob Riley that demonstrates not every hero is easy to find. It takes understanding of the difficulties one has faced to reveal why they are a true hero. Exceptional people like Rebecca Lee Crumpler, have faced conflicting ideas such as sexism and racism by proving that they shouldn't matter. She spent her lifetime working to improve the health of the black community ("Rebecca Lee Crumpler."). Rebecca was born on February 8, 1831 in Richmond, Virginia and grew up in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. She was raised in Pennsylvania by her aunt, who was her role model and inspiration to become a doctor, since they spent much of their time attending to the health needs of the local black population. With recommendations from her employers and medical school supervisors, Crumpler was accepted into the New England Female Medical College in Boston, Massachusetts. Upon graduation from the school in March 1864, she was awarded a Doctress of Medicine degree, 15 years after the first white woman received a medical degree (Markel). Between 1852 and 1860, Crumpler worked as a nurse in Charlestown, Massachusetts and helped others in this capacity. In 1883 in Boston, Crumpler began to organize her research and experience by publishing A Book of Medicinal Discourses in Two Parts which contained information on the medical needs and conditions of specifically women and children. After a long life of taking care of others and making history, Crumpler died on March 9, 1895 in Hyde Park in Boston, Massachusetts. For one to be considered a hero, they must dedicate their actions to a cause greater than themselves. A hero shouldn't be defined by their wealth but instead by the amount of lives they touch through their inner character. If someone can contribute just enough good in the world to make it a better place, they deserve to be recognized as a hero. Rebecca Lee Crumpler is an exemplary example of what it means to be a true hero because of her determination, nurturing character, and ability to inspire even after nearly 200 years since her death.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler overcame many challenges in her journey to become a physician and no matter how many people doubted her she was determined to prove them wrong. From a young age, Crumpler faced many doubters that she would not become anything more than a slave or housewife. She overcame them by following her aunt's footsteps and began to study in medical school where she, "...challenged the prejudice that prevented African Americans from pursuing careers in medicine to become the first African American woman in the United States to earn an M.D. degree" ("Changing the Face of Medicine | Rebecca Lee Crumpler." ). During a time of racism and the hypercritical attitudes of her peers, Crumpler did not give into their judgement. Instead, she faced them head on by being the first African American graduating with an M.D. degree which demonstrates her determined spirit. Crumpler created the precedent of female African Americans graduating from medical school with a MD degree and Manon Parry, curator at the National Library of Medicine's History of Medicine Division, states, "It was a significant achievement at the time because she was in the first generation of women of color to break into medical school, fight racism and sexism" (Gray). She played an important role in her medical school by being determined to fight the "normal" standards showing anything is possible with hard work. Crumpler established the belief that neither gender or skin color should matter. The desire to accomplish something for not only yourself, but for others does matter. Determined to become a doctor her entire life, Crumpler did not let her gender or race get in the way of her goal, making her a hero to those who want to follow her in her footsteps.


Rebecca Lee Crumpler dedicated her life to nurturing others and making sure those who needed help were taken care of no matter who they were. During a time of slavery and segregation, not everyone was given the same health attention, but that didn't matter to Crumpler who helped by giving medical attention to them: "'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.' She joined other black physicians caring for freed slaves who would otherwise have had no access to medical care" ("Changing the Face of Medicine | Rebecca Lee Crumpler."). She wanted to take care of those in need out of the necessity of her heart and knew it was the right thing to do. Since slaves weren't granted the same rights as others, they needed great medical attention which is what she gave them. She understood how hard life can be by being sick since she grew up helping her aunt take care of others and later in her career, "tended to large groups of the poor and destitute that would have had little access to medical care and a new path was forged for healthcare in undeserved communities" ("Rebecca Lee Crumpler."). She ensured the health of those who deserved it through these actions and this proves she cared about the well being of other people and not just her own success. Crumpler understood the hardships at the time and believed their skin color didn't matter. They should still be granted to live a disease-free life. Her nurturing character is demonstrated when she managed the well being of groups of poor people and slaves. Crumpler's nurturing character and passion for the health of the less fortunate is a clear reason as to why many look up to her as their hero.

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A determined spirit, nurturing character, and inspiring message for all are qualities Rebecca Lee Crumpler embodies that make her an amazing example of a hero. She never gave up on her dream to become a physician and challenged racism and sexism which awarded her with the title of becoming the first female African American doctor. Her career leaves a legacy in the hearts of people through many generations since she helped slaves when no one else would. Rebecca Lee Crumpler left her inspiring words in a book called A Book of Medicinal Discourses in Two Parts. While it contained medical advice for women and children it also gives an insight as to how she felt back then and how far she came from struggling in medical school to becoming a successful doctor. Some historians have wondered if Rebecca even knew of her status as "the first" given that for many decades in the 20th century that credit was awarded to Dr. Rebecca Cole (Markel). She may not have known if she was a hero or role model to anyone, but her work inspired so many that it became clear to historians that she was the true first African American female doctor. Even though, there's no physical proof of her appearance, looks don't matter in this case. Crumpler's dedication to her goal inspired many which is what managed to keep her legacy alive for so long. She will never be forgotten since she left her mark in the world. Organizations such as The Center for Black Women's Wellness are still acknowledging her actions today by awarding other people who demonstrate the same determination and nurturing skills she had.  A person's actions reflect their inner qualities and define the type of person they are and will be. Heroes have been around for as long as the Earth has been alive and throughout history there are countless heroes for countless reasons. Crumpler's heroism can be seen as just an ordinary person following their dreams and sharing their gift with the world for a greater cause. Rebecca Lee Crumpler led the pathway for both young females and African Americans through her life's accomplishments and her characteristics prove her to be a deserving, inspiring hero.


Works Cited

"Changing the Face of Medicine | Rebecca Lee Crumpler." U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 3 June 2015, Accessed 1 May 2017.

Gray, Madison. "Black History Month: Unsung Heroes." Time, Time Inc., 12 Jan. 2007,,28804,1963424_1963480_1963455,00.html. Accessed 1 May 2017.

Markel, Dr. Howard. "Celebrating Rebecca Lee Crumpler, First African-American Woman Physician." PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, Accessed 28 Apr. 2017.

"Rebecca Lee Crumpler." Contemporary Black Biography, vol. 89, Gale, 2011. Biography in Context, Accessed 1 May 2017.

"Rebecca Lee Crumpler." Notable Black American Scientists, Gale, 1998. Biography in Context, Accessed 28 Apr. 2017.



Page created on 5/22/2017 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 1/5/2019 11:26:36 PM

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