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Access Granted: Black Women in Medicine

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler

A Mighty Spark

Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first African American female physician in 1864. She graduated from The New England Female Medical College in Boston, MA. Her Book of Medical Discourses was one of the first medical texts by an African American. Published in 1883, the book includes journal notes from her medical practices with guidance for women and children. She also notes in the book that caring for those in need was sparked by her time with her aunt in Philadephia who raised her and who also took care of sick neighbors.

Dr. Cumpler was born in Deleware, MD in 1831. She moved to Charlestown, MA in 1852 where she was a nurse until 1860 when she entered the New England Female Medical College. She remained in Boston until 1865. That year she moved to Richmond, VA. In her book, she notes that the time spent there was filled with the type of work she felt best suited for. In Richmond, she did community and missionary work and assisted the Freedmen's Bureau which consisted of other Black physicians tending to freed slaves. She later returned to Massachusetts, eventually settling in Hyde Park after some time in Boston.

Unfortunately, there are no surviving images of Dr. Cumpler. The little that is known of her gives us a glimpse into the life of an African American woman who challenged the gender and racial stereotypes of the times. She gave back to her community and gave African Americans access to medical services they would otherwise not have been able to attain.


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