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Rebecca Lee Crumpler, M.D. (1831-1895)

Rebecca Lee Crumpler (née Lee) holds a place in American history by becoming the first African-American female to receive an MD degree in the United States. Crumpler received a Doctress of Medicine degree in 1864 when she graduated from the New England Female Medical College (later to merge with Boston University in 1873).

Before entering medical school, Crumpler worked in Charlestown, Massachusetts for eight years as a nurse. After securing her degree, she moved to Richmond, Virginia subsequent to the Civil War. Amidst the severe racism of the postwar South, Crumpler worked with other black physicians treating freed slaves, a group who otherwise would not have had access to medical care. As noted in her book, A Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts (1883), this missionary work was in concert with her career goals: “I early conceived a liking for, and sought every opportunity to relieve the sufferings of others.”

Returning to Boston from Richmond, Crumpler continued to practice medicine until 1881 within the black community “receiving children in the house for treatment; regardless, in a measure, of remuneration.” She and her husband, Arthur Crumpler, lived in Boston at 67 Joy Street on Beacon Hill, and after moving to Hyde Park, Massachusetts, Crumpler used the notes she kept while in medical practice to produce A Book of Medical Discourses – one of the very first medical publications by an African American.