Rebecca Lee Crumpler

She changed the face of medicine

Rebecca Lee Crumpler

It was being raised by a kind aunt who spent much of her time caring for sick neighbors and her desire to relieve the suffering of others which led Rebecca Lee Crumpler down the a career path that would earn her the distinction of being the first African American woman physician in the United States.   In doing so, she rose to and overcame the challenge which prevented African Americans from pursuing careers in medicine.

Rebecca, a bright girl, attended the West-Newton English and Classical School in Massachusetts, a prestigious private school as a “special student”.  In 1852 she moved to Charleston, Massachusetts where she worked as a nurse.  In 1860, she took a leap of faith and applied to medical school and was accepted into the New England Female Medical College.

The college was founded by Drs. Israel Tisdale Talbot and Samuel Gregory in 1848 and in 1852,  accepted its first class of women, 12 in number.  However, Rebecca proved that their assertions were false when, in 1864, she earned the distinction being the first African American woman to earn an M.D. degree and  the college’s only African American graduate.  The college closed in 1873.

In 1864, a year after her first husband, Wyatt Lee died, Rebecca married her second husband, Arthur Crumpler.   She began a medical practice in Boston.   In 1865, after the Civil War ended, the couple moved to Richmond, Virginia, where she found “the proper field for real missionary work, and one that would present ample opportunities to become acquainted with the diseases of women and children.”  She joined other black physicians caring for freed slaves who would otherwise would not have access to medical care.  She worked with the Freedmen’s Bureau, missionary and community groups in the face of intense racism which many black physicians experienced while working in the postwar South.

Racism, rude behavior and sexism didn’t diminish Rebecca’s zeal and valiant efforts to treat a “very large number of the indigent and others of different classes in a population of over 30,000 colored”.  She declared that “at the close of my services in that city, I returned to my former home, Boston where I entered into the work with renewed vigor, practicing outside, and receiving children in the house for treatment, regardless, in measure, of remuneration.”

The couple lived in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Beacon Hill where she practiced medicine.  In 1880, she and her husband moved to Hyde Park.  It was believed that at that time she was no longer in active practice but she did write a “A Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts”,  the first medical publication by an African American.  The book consisted of two parts.  The first part focused on “treating the cause, prevention, and cure of infantile bowel complaints, from birth to the close of the teething period, or after the fifth year.” The second section contained “miscellaneous information concerning the life and growth of beings; the beginning of womanhood; also, the cause, prevention, and cure of many of the most distressing complaints of women, and youth of both sexes.”

Rebecca Lee Crumpler died in Hyde Park on March 9, 1895.  Notes to Women wishes to celebrate this brave woman who had the tenacity to pursue a career in medicine, proving that women can change the face of a field which many wanted to bar her from because of color and gender.  Her passion to help alleviate the suffering of others was what led her to take this path.  Her courage and perseverance in the face of racism, sexism paved the way for many, not only African Americans and women but for those who like her, will seek every opportunity to relieve the sufferings of others.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler’s story is a reminder to all of us that we should never let anything or anyone prevent us from pursuing our dreams.

Selfish prudence is too often allowed to come between duty and human life – Rebecca Lee Crumpler

Sources:  Changing the Face of Medicine; PBS

Jennie Kidd Trout

What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make – Jane Goodall

Today would have been Jennie Trout’s 117th birthday.  I never heard of her until a few minutes ago when I saw an image of her on Google’s logo.  Of course, I had to find out who Jennie Trout was.  She was the first woman in Canada to become a licensed medical doctor in March 1875. Jennie was the only woman in Canada licensed to practice medicine until July 1880, when Emily Stowe completed the official qualifications.

Jennie Kidd Trout was born in Kelso, Scotland.  In 1847, she moved with her parents to Canada.  They settled in Stratford, Ontario.  After graduating, Jennie became a teacher after taking a teaching course and continued teaching until her marriage to Edward Trout in 1865.  The couple moved to Toronto where Edward ran a newspaper.

It was her own battle with “nervous disorders” shortly after her marriage, which made Jennie decide to practice medicine.  In 1871, she passed her matriculation exam and studied the University of Toronto.  Jennie Trout and Emily Jennings Stowe were the first women admitted to the Toronto School of Medicine, by special arrangement.  However, Emily refused to sit her exams in protest of the university’s demeaning treatment of the two women.  In the following video is the reenactment of how Jennie stood up to the prejudices of her male counterparts in the classroom.

Jennie ended up transferring to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, where she earned her M.D. on March 11, 1875 and became the first licensed female physician in Canada.

Jennie opened the Therapeutic and Electrical Institute in Toronto where there were specialized treatments for women involving “galvanic baths or electricity.” A galvanic bath uses the components of water and gentle electrical current. You lie in a 34 degree Celsius Bath, electricity is then passed through your body. Galvanic bath’s are mostly used in the treatment of degenerative diseases such as inflammatory arthritis and problems with the joints. The treatment lasts about 15 minutes (SMOKH)

For six years, she ran a free dispensary for the poor at the same location as the Institute which became so successful that branches in Brantford and Hamilton were later opened.

In 1882, due to poor health, Jennie moved to Palma Sola, Florida.  She was instrumental in the establishment of a medical school for women at Queen’s University in Kingston. Her family travelled extensively between Florida and Ontario and later moved to Los Angeles, California, where she died in 1921.

In 1991, Canada Post issued a postage stamp in her honour to commemorate her as the first woman licensed to practice medicine in Canada.

Notes to Women celebrates this phenomenal woman who made history and left an indelible mark in the medical profession.  She is an inspiration for us all.

Sources: Wikipedia; Susanna McLeod ; Goodreads