Dr. Rebecca Crumpler (1831-1895)
For Black History Month idareu2bee.com is spotlighting African American heroes, activists, pioneers, innovators that all faced their fears and pursued their dreams. Today we celebrate Dr. Rebecca Crumpler who was the first black female doctor in the United States of America. Not only did she break barriers by becoming a practicing physician, but she also later wrote a 145-page book/guide focusing on women’s and children’s health which didn’t separate black women’s health from white women’s health like other books at the time.
Rebecca was born Rebecca Davis in Delaware on February 8th,1831. She was raised by an aunt in Pennsylvania and learned from an early age the importance of caring for others as she watched her aunt care for sick neighbours. She grew up and became a nurse, moving to Boston with her sight set on going to medical school at the New England Female Medical College which was attached to the New England Hospital for Women and Children and was the only medical school for women. It accepted its first class of 12 female students in 1850. This was at a time when most male physicians thought that women were too emotional and too intellectually weak to be able to manage the rigours of medical school and medical practice.
Rebecca was accepted to medical school in 1860 and graduated four years later. Her achievement was monumental considering at the time there were 54,543 physicians in the US, and of those only 300 were women, and 0 of those women were African American.1 At the time of her graduation there was a major public health crisis happening in the US as a result of the end of the civil war and the freeing of millions of enslaved people who were left without adequate shelter, food, or access to medical care. According to Jack Downs in his book: Sick from Freedom: African American Illness and Suffering During the Civil War and Reconstruction, there were only about 80 doctors and 12 hospitals in the US that would treat formerly enslaved people and they were underfunded by the Freedmen’s Bureau-the agency set up to run the hospitals. Dr. Crumpler jumped on the opportunity to be of service by working for the Freedmen’s Bureau and going down to Virginia to care for the thousands of formerly enslaved people in Richmond.
She returned to Boston in 1869 and continued to care for women and children in the community including the poor who couldn’t pay for her care. She published her book called: A Book of Medical Discourses in 1883. She provided treatment guidelines for many illnesses with a focus on women’s and children’s health.
Being the first to accomplish something takes a considerable amount of grit, perseverance, and courage as many will feel threatened by the change your accomplishment will cause. We thank and celebrate Dr. Rebecca Crumpler for Letting go of Fear, Letting Love Win blaze the trail for all those who came after her.