Women Who Impacted Medicine: Rebecca Lee Crumpler

March 17, 2016

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first African-American woman to receive a Doctor of Medicine degree in the U.S. After her groundbreaking career choice, Crumpler went on to make some very important contributions to medicine. In addition to her general knowledge as a physician, Crumpler focused on healing women and children.

Rebecca Lee Becomes a Doctor

Not much is known about Dr. Crumpler’s early life before she began her medical career. In 1831, Crumpler was born in Delaware to Absolum Davis and Matilda Webber. She was raised by an aunt in Pennsylvania, and spent her childhood helping her aunt to care for their impoverished black neighbors. She then went on to be an assistant to several different doctors during her early 20s. These kind doctors were impressed by Crumpler’s talent, and they helped her to gain admission to the New England Female Medical College.

In this time period, it was still very rare for any women to become doctors, so the school justified giving women medical degrees by emphasizing that it was unseemly for men to help a woman in childbirth. After four years of studying coursework that primarily focused on women’s health, Crumpler received a master’s degree in medicine and became a doctor. Shortly after graduation, she married Dr. Arthur Crumpler and began a medical practice with him in Boston.

Dr. Crumpler’s Career After the Civil War

When the Civil War ended, thousands of slaves nationwide had to adjust to a life of freedom. Dr. Crumpler was touched by the plight of these newly freed people, and she decided to move to Richmond, Va. in 1865. According to Dr. Crumpler, Richmond was “a proper field for real missionary work, and one that would present ample opportunities to become acquainted with the diseases of women and children.”

She worked alongside other African American physicians to cure the medical needs of slaves who could not afford medical care. Dr. Crumpler was not well received by many of her male colleagues, who refused to fill her prescriptions or work alongside her. In addition, African American doctors  calling names and belittling their achievements. Despite the racism and sexism, Crumpler persevered and continued to work in Richmond until 1869.

The Later Life and Works of Dr. Crumpler

After years of dealing with the racism in the South and the chaos of Richmond during the Reconstruction Era, Dr. Crumpler was happy to return to Boston, Ma. She felt “a renewed vigor” for her medical practice, and she mostly worked with children who would come to her home for treatment. Dr. Crumpler often refused to charge her patients because they were so impoverished. For the next few decades, she lived and worked in Beacon Hill, a neighborhood in Boston, MA.

In 1880, the Crumplers moved to Hyde Park, MA., a wealthier area where Dr. Rebecca Crumpler’s services were not as necessary. So, in 1883, she decided to take time off to write a book, titled A Book of Medical Discourses. This book was dedicated to mothers and nurses, and it was mostly based on the extensive notes Dr. Crumpler took during her career. The first part of this book focused on the care of infants from birth to the age of five. The second part highlights female medical conditions, including pregnancy and menstruation. Dr. Crumpler passed away in 1895, but her life and career inspired and continue to inspire countless other women to seek a career in medicine.

Find Healthcare at OB-GYN Women’s Centre of Lakewood Ranch

Dr. Crumpler’s contributions to the field of healthcare for women and infants continues to have lasting effects. In modern times, the field of obstetrics and gynecology works to give women the health care that they need. At the OB-GYN Women’s Centre of Lakewood Ranch, we provide quality service and offer comprehensive medical care to women in all stages of their lives. To learn more about how we can provide services for women, contact us today.