Women’s History Month Spotlight: Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler

Rebecca’s childhood was spent primarily with her aunt in Pennsylvania, who many in the town came to for care when they were sick. Seeing this work performed by her aunt in the community inspired Rebecca. In 1852, at age 21, Rebecca moved to Charlestown, Massachusetts, where she would pursue her career as a nurse.

In 1860, Rebecca received acceptance into the New England Female Medical College. This acceptance was rare, as women weren’t generally admitted to medical schools. The demands of the Civil War however created opportunities for women physicians. Rebecca graduated in 1864 and was named a Doctor of Medicine, the first African-American woman in the U.S. to earn that honor.

At the conclusion of the Civil War, and millions of emancipated slaves needed medical care. Rebecca re-located to Richmond, VA and worked alongside the Freedmen’s Bureau and other charity groups to provide care to formerly enslaved men, women, and children. Despite intense racism, her work during these times influenced many people to pursue a career in medicine.

In 1883 Rebecca took her notes, complied from years of practice, and wrote A Book of Medical Discourses, the first medical textbook written by an African American author. The book covered pregnancy, nursing, maternal and child health and contained autobiographical anecdotes.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler has been honored for her work in many ways since her death in 1895. In 2019, the governor of Virginia declared March 30 (National Doctors Day) “Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler Day”, and her final home on Joy St. in Boston is part of the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail.