Science, Inventions, Medicine, and Aerospace

Black Women in Medicine

Who was the first black woman to receive a medical degree in the United States?

Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler (1831–1895) was the first black woman awarded a medical degree in the United States. Born in Richmond, Virginia, she was raised in Philadelphia by an aunt. By 1852 she had moved to Charlestown, Massachusetts, and worked as a nurse until 1860. She completed the four-year medical program at the New England Female Medical College in Boston, and on March 11, 1864, she was awarded the doctress of medicine degree. She married, and at the end of the Civil War returned to Richmond to work with the Freedmen’s Bureau, providing health care and treatment to newly freed blacks who had no medical provisions. After returning to Boston in 1869, she may have continued her practice; whatever the case, there is no indication that she was in active practice after 1883. Crumpler’s interest in women and children led her to publish, in 1883, a two-part work of advice, Book of Medical Discourses. In honor of her pioneering work in the medical profession, the first medical society for black women was founded and named the Rebecca Lee Society.


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