Time-past forward: STEM Legacy
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler
Dr. Crumpler, born in Christiana, Delaware in 1831 and transitioned in March 1895, in Hyde Park, Boston, Massachusetts, was the first African American woman in the nation to receive a Doctor of Medicine degree. Her accomplishments were overlooked for many years, and it was believed that Dr. Roberta Cole was the first African American woman physician. Dr. Crumpler completed her “Doctress” degree three years before Dr. Cole.
Raised by an aunt who tended to sick neighbors, Dr. Crumpler worked as a nurse in Charlestown before enrolling in Boston’s New England Female Medical College. When she entered in 1860, there were about 54,000 doctors in the United States. Only about 300 were women, and none were Black. Dr. Crumpler graduated on March 1, 1964, a decade before the college merged with Boston University.
During her lifetime, she treated illness in the medical unit of the Freedman’s Bureau, tending to poor women and children; and escaped formerly enslaved Africans.
Her A Book of Medical Discourses in 1883, the first known medical text written by a Black American author, covered such topics as pregnancy, nursing, teething, and other ailments that come up during the first five years. The work is considered a forerunner to current pre-natal care books. It also chronicled her experiences as a doctor.
The Rebecca Lee Society Established DR. PATRICIA WHITLEY-WILLIAMS, MD
In 1989, The Rebecca Lee Society was formed by Dr. Patricia Whitley-Williams, M.D. (above) and Dr. Saundra Maass-Robinson (unpictured). It was one of the first medical societies for African American women, designed to support and promote them. Dr. Whitley-Williams is immediate past-president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID). She is professor of pediatrics; chief of the Division of Pediatric Allergy, Immunology, and Infectious Diseases; and senior associate dean for inclusion and diversity at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
A native of Boston, she received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Simmons College in Boston and a medical degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She completed her pediatric residency at Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati and fellowship training in pediatric infectious diseases at Boston City Hospital/Boston University School of Medicine. She is board certified in pediatrics and pediatric infectious diseases and is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society.
She serves as the National Medical Association (NMA) liaison to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and is a member of the NMA Task Force on COVID-19 Vaccines and Therapeutics. She is an active member of the Central Jersey Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. She has published articles and several book chapters, served on national grant review committees, and has mentored many young pediatricians, residents, and medical students. Her research interests HIV/AIDS in women and children as well as childhood and adolescent immunizations.
Legacy Kept, DR. MELODY MCCLOUD, MD
Dr. Melody McCloud (CAS’77, MED’81), an OB/GYN at Emory University Hospital and founder and medical director of Atlanta Women’s Health, spent years researching Dr. Crumpler’s legacy. McCloud says Crumpler’s journey to medical school was “a phenomenal accomplishment, as she encountered both sexism and racism. She must have faced hell in her professional life, Some of the hospitals wouldn’t grant her admitting privileges, some of the pharmacists refused to fill her prescriptions, and some people joked that the ‘M.D.’ behind her name stood for ‘mule driver.’
What she accomplished was exemplary.” The New York Times’ reporter Cindy Schmerler wrote in a July 17, 2021 article, “Overlooked No More: Rebecca Lee Crumpler Who Battled Prejudice in Medicine, wrote: “McCloud, who urged Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia to declare March 30, 2019, Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler Day — and who is trying to get a monument for Crumpler erected in Richmond, where she practiced medicine from 1865 to 1869 — was also a curator of an exhibition about Crumpler’s career at the Boston University School of Medicine”. (Curator’s Note: Dr. McCloud is author of the “Melodies of the Heart,” published in 1998, “Blessed Health” (2003); and “Black Women’s Wellness: Your “I’ve Got This!” Guide to Health, Sex & Phenomenal Living,” published in January of this year. She and the late Dr. Crumpler share the same alma mater.)
Legacy Endowed: Boston U Scholarship Established
In memory of the first Black women to receive a degree in medicine, Boston University’s Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine has established the Rebecca Lee Crumpler, MD, Endowed Scholarship Fund, which is awarded to students demonstrating financial need, with first preference for Black women and second preference for students from underrepresented communities who are Black or Hispanic/Latinx. For more information on this initiative, place this website in any search engine: Rebecca Lee Crumpler Scholarship.