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Happy Women’s History Month! This is the 4th blog of a series of blogs called “Women’s History Month Heroes You Should Know”. This series will be a collection of my research into little-known American women who have made history in one way or another (or multiple ways!).

The focus of today’s blog is Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first American Black woman to become a doctor.

This is her story.

Bright Student

Rebecca Crumpler was born in 1831 in Delaware. Growing up, she attended the West-Newton English and Classical School in Massachusetts, where her academic talents quickly became known. After graduating from school, she moved out to live on her own in 1852 and worked as a nurse in Charlestown, Massachusetts. During this same year, she met and married her first husband, Wyatt Lee, who died 11 years into their marriage.

Attending Medical School

At 21, Crumpler applied and was accepted to attend the New England Female Medical College in Boston. One of the first of its kind, the New England Female Medical College offered a 17-week program with 30 or more hours per week of instruction. The courses taught a large array of subjects including anatomy, chemistry, medicine, and physiology. To graduate, the college required an apprenticeship lasting two years under a licensed physician.

First Black Female Doctor

By age 33, Rebecca Crumpler had completed all of the requirements and became Dr. Rebecca Crumpler. This made her the first Black woman to become a doctor in the United States in 1864. She also became the only Black woman to graduate from the New England Female Medical College, as it closed down in 1873. During this time, she also married for the second time to a man named Arthur Crumpler.

Work at the Freedman’s Bureau

After starting and working at her own medical practice in Boston for some time, Crumpler and her husband moved to Virginia after the Civil War ended in 1865. It was there that she began working alongside General Orlando Brown at the Freedman’s Bureau, which was the federal agency that helped over 4 million previously enslaved people readjust to a free life.

Publishing a Legacy

Later on, after moving back to Boston, and then to New York in 1880, Crumpler wrote and published a book called “A Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts.” The book’s two parts focused firstly on the diseases, conditions, and disorders that would affect infants followed by the second part which focused on those that would affect mothers and women in general. It is thought that this book might have been the first publication of medical discourse written by a Black author. Read more about Dr. Rebecca Crumpler here.

Read another post from the blog series “Women’s History Month Heroes You Should Know” here.