For many years Dr. Rebecca Cole
was considered to be the first black woman physician. However, historical research has shown that the honor rightly belongs to Dr. Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler who completed her M.D. in 1864, three years before Dr. Cole.
Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler was born free around 1831 to Absolum and Matilda Davis in Delaware
. She was raised by an aunt in Pennsylvania
who is noted to have provided health care to her neighbors. In 1852 Davis was living in Charlestown, Massachusetts
where she worked as a nurse for eight years. She enrolled in the New England Female Medical College in 1860. Her acceptance at the college was highly unusual as most medical schools at that time it did not admit African Americans. Despite its reluctance, the faculty awarded Davis her medical doctorate. That year she also married Arthur Crumpler.
Dr. Crumpler practiced medicine in Boston and specialized in the care of women, children, and the poor. She moved to Richmond, Virginia
in 1865 to minister to freedpeople through the Freedmen’s Bureau. Crumpler returned to Boston in 1869 where she practiced from her home on Beacon Hill and dispensed nutritional advice to poor women and children. In 1883 she published a medical guide book, Book of Medical Discourses,
which primarily gave advice for women in the health care of their families.
Dr. Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler died in 1895 in Fairview, Massachusetts. Though her story was long forgotten, today she is honored for her groundbreaking achievements. In 1989 Saundra Maass-Robinson, M.D. and Patricia Whitley, M.D. founded the Rebecca Lee Society, an organization which supports and promotes black women physicians.
Sarah K. A. Pfatteicher, "Crumpler, Rebecca Davis Lee," American National Biography Online, Feb. 2000.; http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/partners/early/e_pioneers_crumpler.html; http://rlsonline.org/53350_12922.asp
University of Washington