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The Trailblazing Black Female Doctor That American History Forgot

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tags: African American history, womens history, medical history



It’s somewhat hard today to appreciate just what an accomplishment the 145-page treatise A Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts represents. Even the title of the 1883 work is misleadingly modest. One of the first American medical guides to offer advice for women and children, the book deals with treating everything from infant bowel complaints to hemorrhoids and diphtheria. It even offers marital advice: one way to stay happily married “is to continue in the careful routine of the courting days, till it becomes well understood between the two.”

Dedicated “to mothers, nurses, and all who may desire to mitigate the afflictions of the human race,” Medical Discourses is the masterwork of Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first Black woman in America to earn a medical degree. She managed to blaze a path through the medical profession at a time when few Blacks or women were able to attend medical school, let alone publish books about their work.

Few photographs survive of Dr. Crumpler, and what we know about her comes mostly from her own writings. Born in 1831, she says she was raised by a “kind aunt in Pennsylvania” who spent much of her time caring for sick neighbors so that the young Rebecca “early conceived a liking for, and sought every opportunity to relieve the sufferings of others.” At the age of 21, Crumpler moved to Charlestown, Massachusetts, where she worked as a nurse for eight years and set her sights on the New England Female Medical College.

Read entire article at OZY

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