Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was born on February 8,1831 in Delaware. Even though there are not that many records of her childhood, historians agree that her aunt was her primary caretaker for the majority of her childhood in Pennsylvania. Dr. Crumpler recalls that it was the quality time spent with her aunt who encouraged her to pursue a career in medicine.
In the beginning of Dr. Crumpler’s career, she was a nurse in Boston assisting a number of doctors in the area. She was the first in the first cohort of 12 female students to graduate from Boston Female Medical College. During the time she was obtaining her degree, there were an estimated 300 female doctors in the country out of a total of about 54,000 physicians. All of the 300 women were white.
After Dr. Crumpler got her medical degree, she worked with the “Freedmen’s Bureau,” an institution established after the Civil War to offer support to formerly enslaved people in 11 former rebel states. Dr. Lee Crumpler was not only the first African American woman to receive a medical degree, but she was also known as the first black female doctor employed by the Bureau.
Her work was imperative, seeing that at the time, only a few white doctors saw black patients. She moved back to Boston where she cared for patients in her local Black community. She treated patients whether or not they had the means to pay. Dr. Crumpler saw that these communities had an increase in illnesses due to precarious living conditions.
Unfortunately, Dr. Crumpler died in Boston on March 9, 1895. Her contributions and dedication to African American women in the medical field are unmatched; however, historians are unable to identify with certainty a visual image of Dr. Crumpler. Her true image remains a mystery.
Did you like learning about Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler? Keep following along the month of February as we discover more people of color who made a contribution to the healthcare industry.