Boston Honors Trailblazing School of Medicine Alum Rebecca Lee Crumpler (MED 1864) Monday
First Black woman to graduate from a US medical school will be recognized with weeklong MED Symposia
On Monday, the City of Boston and Mayor Martin Walsh are proclaiming February 8, 2021, a day officially honoring Rebecca Lee Crumpler, an 1864 graduate of the Boston University School of Medicine, then New England Female Medical College. And the recognition will extend beyond Monday (her 190th birthday), as MED will hold a virtual symposia in honor of Crumpler all week.
So who exactly was Crumpler (MED 1864) and why is she deserving of a formal day in her honor?
Here are seven things you should know about one of the most remarkable women in medical history, a key figure in the story of Black Americans, and one of the most notable figures in the history of Boston University. (Read more about Rebecca Lee Crumpler here.)
1) In 1852, Crumpler (1831-1895) moved from Delaware to Charlestown, where she worked as a nurse, and eight years later she enrolled in what was then a groundbreaking school called New England Female Medical College. In 1864, she became the first Black woman to graduate from a US medical school. (A decade later the college merged with Boston University and the School of Medicine was born.)
2) At the time she entered, in 1860, there were approximately 54,000 doctors in the United States—only 300 were women. None were Black.
3) After she graduated, following the Civil War, Crumpler moved south to Virginia to help care for former slaves white doctors had refused to treat. Her husband, Arthur Crumpler, had been a slave.
4) Throughout her career, as a Black female doctor she faced prejudice along with open hostility. But nothing deterred her from what became her life’s mission—treating illness in poor women and children.
5) Crumpler eventually published a medical book in 1883 called A Book of Medical Discourses (focused on women’s health), becoming one of the first Black physicians to do so.
6) In 1869, after returning to Boston, she opened her own medical practice, at her home at 67 Joy Street in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. It is now a stop on the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail.
7) The medical school named one of its academies after Crumpler, and her story and a picture of her book are prominently exhibited on the school’s “History Wall”. The NIH included her in its “Changing Face of Medicine” exhibit. In the summer of 2020, several people, among them Vicky Gall (Sargent’73, Wheelock’83), president of the Friends of the Hyde Park Library, and Emory University Hospital OB/GYN Melody McCloud (CAS’77, MED’81), founder and medical director of Atlanta Women’s Health Care, pushed for Crumpler to have a more prominent burial than an unmarked grave in Fairview Cemetery in Hyde Park. Thanks to fundraising efforts and donations from across the country, Arthur and Rebecca Lee Crumpler were given proper new granite headstones. On Crumpler’s is acknowledgement of her “ceaseless courage, pioneering achievements and historic legacy as a physician, author, nurse, missionary and advocate for health equity and social justice.”
Karen Antman, dean of MED and provost of the Medical Campus, says the BU community is grateful that Crumpler is being honored by the city and by her alma mater. “We are thankful for Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s acknowledgement of [her] and support in celebrating the lasting legacy of her life’s work by proclaiming February 8, 2021, as Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler Day in the City of Boston.
“I can’t imagine how hard it was for a Black woman in medicine in the late 1800s,” Antman says. “Even today our women, and particularly our Black women, are aware of discrimination in medicine. Dr. Crumpler was a remarkable woman; she was not only the nation’s first Black woman physician, but also the first Black author of a medical textbook. This week we will be highlighting the many accomplishments of Black women in medicine today, building on Dr. Crumpler’s accomplishments.”
The MED symposia, The Legacy of Rebecca Lee Crumpler: What Is Possible? begins today, February 8, and runs through Friday, February 12. The events will be livestreamed over Zoom and registration is required. The weeklong discussions will raise funds for a scholarship in Crumpler’s name.
Below are the program details for the weeklong BU School of Medicine celebration.
Breaking Ground: Building a Different Future
Monday, February 8, from 2 pm to 3:15 pm
This presentation examines the triumphs of Rebecca Lee Crumpler and other firsts in medicine and the benefits of embracing diversity moving forward. It will feature a presentation by Joan Y. Reade, Harvard Medical School. Register here.
Stories from Trailblazing Healthcare Leaders (Panel discussion)
Tuesday, February 9, 3 to 5 pm
Prominent Black female trailblazers in medicine share their career journeys and insights on contemporary issues. Register here.
Stories from Rising Stars (Panel discussion)
Wednesday, February 10, 3 to 5 pm
A panel of local rising stars discuss healthcare disparities, lack of Black Americans in the healthcare profession, and lack of Black healthcare leaders. Register here.
Supporting Connections: Mentoring/Networking Event for the Early Medical School Selection Program (EMSSP) Alumni and Students
Thursday, February 11, 6 to 7:30 pm
COVID and the Black Community
Friday, February 12, noon to 3 pm
Leading COVID experts offer their perspectives on the effect of the pandemic on the Black Community. Register here