Today in History- March 1, 1864- Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first African American woman to receive a medical degree and the only to receive a degree at the New England Female Medical College, which closed in 1873.
Dr. Crumpler was born in Delaware to Absolum Davis and Matilda Webber in 1831. Interestingly enough, the date she received her degree was one year after the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 – in other words, she received her degree only a year after slavery became illegal (slavery wasn’t even considered fully abolished until 13th amendment which occurred December 12, 1865). Obviously, the discrimination faced at these times for African Americans was unimaginable. Dr.Crumpler didn’t stop with the medical degree; she began her practice in Boston shortly thereafter before moving to Richmond, Virginia at the end of the Civil war in 1865. Richmond, Virginia was part of what was known as the Southern Black Belt. She arrived in Richmond during the Reconstruction era. During this period, blacks experienced very intense discrimination as they struggled to fully break free from the chains of slavery. Dr.Crumpler moved to Richmond because she felt it would be â€œa proper field for real missionary work, and one that would present ample opportunities to become acquainted with the diseases of women and children. During my stay there nearly every hour was improved in that sphere of labor. The last quarter of the year 1866, I was enabled . . . to have access each day to a very large number of the indigent, and others of different classes, in a population of over 30,000 colored.” In 1883, she published her book “Book of Medical Discourse” in which she gave a summary of her career path. There are no known images of Dr.Crumpler, but the magnitude of her accomplishments are extraordinary making her a prominent figure today in history.
For more information, browse the Engineering Pathway’s resources on African American scientists, engineers & inventors, gender equity, and our engineering diversity website.