Grateful American® Foundation

Who was the first African-American woman to receive a medical degree?

March 1st

tumblr_mt86ovRz0w1s3a4wlo1_400March 11864 — Rebecca Lee Crumpler changed the face of the American medical field by receiving her MD from the New England Female Medical College today in Boston.

The first black woman with a medical degree dedicated her life’s work to giving medical advice to women and children. The publication of her book in 1883, entitled, A Book of Medical Discourses, was one of the first written by an African-American about medicine.

Born in 1831, she was born in Delaware to Matilda Webber and Absolum Davis. She was raised in Pennsylvania by an aunt who cared for infirm neighbors. During the antebellum years, medical care for poor blacks was almost non-existent. She moved to Charlestown, Mass, by 1852 and was employed as a nurse until she was accepted into the New England Female Medical College in 1860.

She married Dr. Arthur Crumpler after the American Civil War.

Words of Wisdom

It may be well to state here that, having been reared by a kind aunt in Pennsylvania, whose usefulness with the sick was continually sought, I early conceived a liking for, and sought every opportunity to relieve the sufferings of others. Later in life I devoted my time, when best I could, to nursing as a business, serving under different doctors for a period of eight years (from 1852 to 1860); most of the time at my adopted home in Charlestown, Middlesex County, Massachusetts. From these doctors I received letters commending me to the faculty of the New England Female Medical College, whence, four years afterward, I received the degree of doctress of medicine.

— Rebecca Davis Lee, the first black woman to receive a medical degree, describes the progression of experiences that led her to study and practice medicine in her publication, "A Book of Medical Discourses," (1883)

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