Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History lived a caring, intelligent African American woman named Rebecca Lee Crumpler who went on to become the first African American woman earning a medical degree, becoming an M.D.
Born Rebecca Davis on February 8, 1831 to parents Absolum Davis and Pheobe Davis in Christiana, Delaware. Not much is known about her childhood and upbringing, however, what little is known comes from her journals which was published as the Book of Medical Discourses in 1883.
In the book, she affirms that it was her aunt who birthed her love for caring for others as she watched and followed her aunt who was a nurse. Back in the early 1800s, there were no nursing schools, but one became a nurse through skills learned over time.
This was how Rebecca Davis learned, via her aunt. In 1852, she moved to the city of Charleston, Massachusetts. It was also this year on April 19th that she married her 1st husband Wyatt Lee, taking his last name Rebecca Lee. They had a child named Author Lee who unfortunately passed away at the age of 7. She began working under a number of physicians as a nurse until 1860.
In 1863, her husband passed away, leaving her a widow. She had been married to him for at least 8 years before his death.
During her time as a nurse, the physicians were so impressed by her nursing that they wrote her recommendations into the New England Female Medical Colleges, and she studied general medicine. 
In 1864, she graduated from the medical school, becoming the 1st African American to graduate from the medical school as a “Doctress of Medicine” and she was the 1st African American woman to earn a M.D.
Career as a Doctor
The now Doctress went on to practice in Boston, Massachusetts in 1865, and there was much to do as a result of the Civil War ending at that time. It was in 1866 that she moved to Richmond, Virginia to work among other Black physicians, joining them all in treating over 30 thousand formerly enslaved Black men, women and children. She did all this while part of the Freedman’s Bureau, formed in 1865, which is also known as the Bureau of Refugees, formed to help black people after the end of the Civil War which the North won, thus the freedom of all enslaved people in America, specifically the South who fought to keep slavery.
Her specialty was women and children’s diseases. She’d become familiar with them over the course of treating the large multitudes. Ultimately, she returned to Boston and continued to care for patients, but this time in her home. Her home was located on Joy Street in the Beacon Hill neighborhood which was well-established and Black.
In 1870, she married once again to a Porter named Author Crumpler, therefore, she became Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler.
In 1880, she moved to Hyde Park, Massachusetts and retired, only to publish her book – Book of Medical Discourses – in 1883, dedicating the book to “Mothers, Nurses, and all who may desire to mitigate the afflictions of the Human Race”. She is the 1st African American to publish a medical publication. She wrote about the following topics in her publication:
- washing and dressing a newborn
- the use of various soaps
- the need for soothing surroundings
- nursing from the breast made easy
- the uselessness of baby medicines during the month
- dropping the navel cord
- artificial nursing
- proper and improper diet after birth as well as how and the position in which the baby should sleep
- treatment of the child and weaning
- signs of starvation
- signs of cholera and treatment
- raising infants without the breast
- teething made easy
- the order in which teeth come out
- teething diseases
- whooping cough
- internal organs woman
- human life
“My chief desire in presenting this book is to impress upon somebody’s mind the possibilities of prevention.”Book of Medical Discourses by Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler passed away on March 9, 1895 in Hyde Park, Massachusetts and buried in Fairview Cemetery in Boston, Massachusetts.
New England Historic Genealogical Society; Boston, Massachusetts; Massachusetts Vital Records, 1911–1915
Massachusetts. 1855–1865 Massachusetts State Census [microform]. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.
Educational Institutions. American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts.
Find A Grave. Find A Grave. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi.
Book of Medical Discourses by Rebecca Lee Crumpler