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Rebecca Lee Crumpler: First African American Female Physician

Readmikenow has written about various medical conditions. He has previously written a series of articles on Polyarteritis nodosa.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler graduated from medical school during a time when it was extremely uncommon for an African-American to attend a medical college. When Crumpler completed medical school, there were over 54,500 physicians in the United States. Approximately 300 of them were women and none of them were African-American. Crumpler was the first. After graduation, she began to practice medicine in Boston treating poor women and their children. In 1865, when the Civil War was over, Crumpler relocated to Richmond, Virginia. She then started working for the Freedmen's Bureau. Crumpler provided freed slaves with medical care. During this time, she was subject to extreme sexism and racism as she tried to practice medicine. Crumpler eventually moved back to Boston to resume providing medical care for women and children.

Early Life

Rebecca Lee Crumpler, née Davis was born in Christiana, Delaware in 1831. Her mother's name was Matilda Webber and her father's name was Absolum Davis. She spent her time growing up in Pennsylvania. Crumpler lived with an aunt who was known for caring for neighbors who were sick. Her aunt was thought of as a doctor in her community. This experience had a huge influence on Crumpler. In 1852, she moved to Charlestown, Massachusetts.

New England Female Medical College

New England Female Medical College

Medical School

Crumpler spent her time working as a nurse from 1855 to 1864. In 1860, the New England Female Medical College accepted her as a student. Her schooling was paid for by a tuition award. It was provided by the Wade Scholarship Fund. This fund was established by a man named Benjamin Wade who was a devout abolitionist. It was extremely rare for a black woman to be admitted to a medical school. The Civil War resulted in the creation of huge demands for medical care. This provided opportunities for women to be trained as a physician. Crumpler had demonstrated that she had talent when it came to providing medical care. This was recognized by a physician who supervised Crumpler when she was a medical apprentice. He gave her a strong recommendation to the medical school.

Medical Career

After completing medical school, Crumpler started practicing medicine in Boston. During this time, she focused her practice on treating poor African-American women and children. When the Civil War was over, she relocated to Richmond, Virginia. Her goal was to gain experience in dealing with diseases that were infecting women and children. She enjoyed her work because of the sphere of labor. In 1866, she was given access to many indigents and other types of people in a population of more than 30,000 African-Americans. Crumpler resided in a predominantly African-American community in Boston. She would treat women and children without worrying about their ability to pay.

Illustration of people at Freedmen's Bureau

Illustration of people at Freedmen's Bureau

Freedmen's Bureau

Crumpler wanted to provide medical care for freed slaves. She started working for the Freedmen's Bureau treating African-Americans who had been denied medical treatment by white physicians. Trying to do her work was extremely frustrating for her. The administration and other physicians subjected her to sexism as well as racism. She struggled to get prescriptions filled. Other male physicians ignored her complaints and openly mocked her. Some male physicians would heckle Crumpler concerning her efforts to treat patients.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler's Book

Rebecca Lee Crumpler's Book

Book of Medical Discourses

Crumpler published a book titled A Book of Medical Discourses in 1883. It was based on notes she kept over all the years she spent practicing medicine. The book was dedicated to mothers and nurses. The focus of it was medical care for women and children. Her goal in publishing the book was to illustrate all the possibilities of healthcare with proper prevention.

Personal Life

When Crumpler was living in Charlestown, she married Wyatt Lee on April 19, 1852. He was a native of Virginia and a former slave. This was his second marriage and Crumpler's first. Wyatt Lee had a son from his first marriage who died at 7. When she was attending medical school, Crumpler's husband died of tuberculosis. She married Arthur Crumpler on May 24, 1865, at Saint Johns in the Canadian province of New Brunswick. The couple had a daughter in December 1870. They named their child Lizzie Sinclair Crumpler.


On March 9, 1885, Dr. Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler died. She was 64 at the time. Crumpler passed away at her home in the Hyde Park section of Boston. She was then buried at Fair View Cemetery. It is agreed that Crumpler left a legacy of inspiration to anyone who faces adversity. Her passion to heal afflictions of all those who needed her is considered her gift to humanity.

Rebecca Lee Society

Crumpler was recognized for her groundbreaking work in 1989. This is when two physicians named Patricia Whitley and Saundra Maass-Robinson founded the Rebecca Lee Society. It is an organization dedicated to promoting and supporting black women physicians.




Black Past

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Readmikenow


Readmikenow (author) on September 11, 2020:

MG, Thanks.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on September 11, 2020:

Fascinating and inspirational biography. Great education for me.

Readmikenow (author) on September 11, 2020:

Liz, thanks. I believe she was a very brave person.

Liz Westwood from UK on September 11, 2020:

This is an interesting biography. She packed a lot into her life.

Readmikenow (author) on September 11, 2020:

Pamela, thanks. I agree. She is an inspiration to everyone.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 11, 2020:

This is an interesting acount of history. It is a shame Crumpler got ridiculed by men. She was obviously a brave women. Thanks for sharing this information.

Readmikenow (author) on September 10, 2020:

Cheryl, thanks. There are so many inspirational people we know nothing about.

Readmikenow (author) on September 10, 2020:

Binoy, thanks.

Readmikenow (author) on September 10, 2020:

Kavya, thanks.

Readmikenow (author) on September 10, 2020:

Eric, thanks

Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on September 10, 2020:

This is so refreshing to learn something new. I get tired of hearing about Rosa Parks and Dr. King. Thank you for this article.

Binoy from Delhi on September 10, 2020:

Very informative article. Thanks for sharing this information.

Kavya Jain on September 10, 2020:

Rebecca Lee Crumpler's story reflects the hardships that she has gone through in the form of sexism, racism and exclusion. She is truly inspirational.

The article is beautifully expressed.

Great Work! Keep sharing.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 10, 2020:

What an inspiring person. Another well done piece. Thank you much.

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