Remembering America’s First Black Female Doctor

As we close out Black History Month, it’s appropriate to remember Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler, who was born on March 1, 1831.  She was the first African-American woman in the U.S. to earn a Doctor of Medicine degree in the U.S.

Crumpler’s journey to this achievement was not easy.  “In 1860, only about 300 of the 54,543 physicians in the United States were women with medical degrees.  None were black women.”  (African American Lives)  Crumpler worked as a nurse – where no degree was required at the time – before being accepted to New England Female Medical School.

Crumpler had to leave school when the Civil War broke out, but later finished thanks to a scholarship from an anti-slavery abolitionist.  She graduated in 1864.  She would be the only African-American woman ever to earn an M.D. from that college before it closed.

After the war, Crumpler devoted her career to treating former slaves, particularly women and children, who had no other medical care after leaving the plantation.  “Men doctors snubbed her, druggists balked at filling her prescriptions, and some people wisecracked that the M.D. behind her name stood for nothing more than ‘Mule Driver’.”  (Ebony)  Nevertheless, Crumpler inspired many other blacks to seek formal medical training.

Dr. Crumpler is almost forgotten today.  No photographs or drawings of her exist.  Until recently, Rebecca Cole was considered the first U.S. black female M.D.  (Crumpler actually preceded her by three years.)

Agilent believes diversity is crucial to the advancement of science.  We are happy to salute Dr. Crumpler, who – in her own words – “sought every opportunity to ease the sufferings of others.”

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