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

The Great Divide

A grainy photo of a child,

a beloved grandmother.

Survivor of the Holocaust.

Deceased.  God spared her

from witnessing the hatred

that has gripped the nation–

the country that she had

called home for so many

years.

 

It was the same kind of hate

which had invaded, occupied

her country and imprisoned

her and over 400,000 Jews

in the Warsaw Ghetto.  Taken

from their homes, they were

forced to live in an area cut

off from the world, topped

with barbed wire.  It was soon

decimated by outbreaks of

infectious diseases, mass hunger

and regular executions.

 

Then in the summer of 1942,

she and her family were among

the 254,000 residents of the Ghetto

who were sent to the Treblinka

Extermination Camp.

 

Tears spilled down her cheeks

as she remembered the horrors

her grandmother described to

her when she was in the camp.

She and her father were together.

Men were told to go to the right

and the women to the left.  She

never saw her parents or little

brother again.  They were

taken straight to the gas chamber.

 

Today, the same hate that had

driven Hitler and those who

shared his ideology has reared

its ugly head and was revealed

to the entire world in the VICE

video of the rally in Charlottes-

ville, Virginia.  The sight of

the burning torches and the

“Jews will not replace us”

and “Blood and soil” chants

filled her with disgust. And

the president’s failure to

lead was dangerous and

may lead to disastrous

consequences of the United

States and the world at large.

 

It was her hope and prayer

that the people of America

would do something about the

great racial divide before things

escalate even further.

 

woman with grandmother

Sources:  Wikipedia;  CNN

Shackles

As she read the two volume autobiography of Olaudah Equiano, she was reminded of how fortunate she was.  She was a black, educated woman who was able to go to the university of her choice and become what she had always dreamed of.   She and her parents left the West Indies for a better life in America.

 

Her world was so different from Olaudah’s.  He had been kidnapped from his home in the West Indies and taken to Virginia where he was bought by a sea captain, Michael Henry  Pascal, with whom he traveled widely.  Olaudah received some education before he bought his freedom in 1766.  He became an abolitionist, speaking out against the cruelty of British slave owners in Jamaica.

 

Slavery is something she was never going to experience, but she knew what it was like to be treated differently because of the colour of her skin.  She learned that being educated, living in a stylish condo and driving an expensive car didn’t matter to those who didn’t see past her colour.  She still had to deal with being watched or ignored or followed when in certain stores or co-workers looking away as she passed them.

 

Yes, she had her own issues to deal with but they paled in comparison to Olaudah who suffered cruelty and indignity at the hands of those who wanted to keep him and the other slaves in emotional and intellectual shackles.  She was grateful to Olaudah for writing about the horrors of slavery.  It made her more determined to work harder and achieve more.  It was what drove her to pursue her Masters.  Like Olaudah, there were times when she questioned her faith but she has since learned that it is during those tough, challenging times that God has proven that she has the mettle to overcome them.

 

Yes, she had come a long way with God’s help but there was still a long way to go. Little by little she was going to break free from the racist mentalities that would like to keep blacks shackled to the painful past of slavery.

 

“After all, what makes any event important, unless by its observation we become better and wiser, and learn ‘to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God?'” – Olaudah Equiano

 

Cartoon image of woman reading book

 

Sources:  WikipediaBritannica; Daily Kos