Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler
We’re halfway through Black History Month and I am realizing I haven’t done a single post about it directly. History is one of my absolute passions. As an academic, I’ve relished literary history; as an amateur, I enjoy genealogy and museums and documentaries and books. One of the things I find most frustrating though is how little I know I know about the history that of people who aren’t white men. White men do plenty, and have gotten plenty of ink, but so much goes unknown about all the other kinds of people.
Yesterday, at the Black Excellence on the Hill event sponsored by the Black and Latino Caucus at the State House, Senator Karen Spilka pointed out that if you walk around the building, you wouldn’t think MA much valued the contributions of anyone who isn’t a white man. And Representative Nika Elugardo followed up by pointing out that it’s not just that we need better representation on the walls, but actually in the halls. In a state where 30% of the population is people of color, there are just 20 total legislators of color out of 200 total at the state house, and very few aides or chiefs of staff of color at all. Thanks to Rep Elugardo for those numbers as well.
Today what I can do is highlight one powerful black woman in MA history who came to my attention because of an article in the Globe two days ago. Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first African American woman to earn an MD in this country, and she did it in 1864. She went south with her knowledge, to take care of recently freed people, and afterwards she spent her life writing and educating people about their bodies. One of her passions, evident in the foreword of her book, was teaching biology and medicine to women. I’m paraphrasing, but her argument is essentially that even though it is possible to produce babies and raise them healthily to adulthood without knowing anything, it is better for everyone if women do know a few things. It’s simple, and obviously true to most of us today, but in her day, this might have been read as revolutionary. Dr. Crumpler is an example of the kind of courage we can all use, then and now. Stand up for the truth. Persevere.
Also, I’m going to suggest Dr. Crumpler might appreciate it if we finally passed the Healthy Youth Act. In her own words, “I believe matrimony to be a divine institution; and that the results arising from a union of the sexes should be considered an important study for each party concerned. …Indeed I desire that my book shall be as a primary reader in the hands of every woman; and yet none the less suited to any who may be conversant with all branches of medical science. If women are permitted to read and reflect for themselves, it is hardly possible that they will say it is uninteresting to them, or that it should only be read by men.”
Dr. Crumpler and her husband are buried in an unmarked grave in Hyde Park. The article that brought her to my attention was about the Friends of the Hyde Park Library raising money to mark her grave. I intend to give a donation, and I encourage you to do it as well. This is a person we should all know as well as we know any of our white patriot forebears. A grave marker seems like the least we can do. Donate by mailing a check to Friends of the Hyde Park Library, 35 Harvard Avenue, Hyde Park, MA 02136, or via PayPal here: https://bit.ly/2HeECDk
Read more about Dr. Crumpler here:
- Follow the Friends of the Hyde Park Library blog here, which includes many interesting articles about Dr. Crumpler and the journey toward establishing the marker: https://hplibraryfriends.wordpress.com/
- NIMH Biography of Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler: https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_73.html
- Globe: Fundraising effort underway in Hyde Park to honor Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, first Black woman to earn medical degree in US: https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/02/10/metro/fundraising-effort-underway-hyde-park-honor-dr-rebecca-lee-crumpler-first-black-woman-earn-md-degree-us/
- Dr. Crumpler’s Book digitally available: A book of medical discourses: in two parts: https://collections.nlm.nih.gov/catalog/nlm:nlmuid-67521160R-bk
- PBS: Celebrating Rebecca Lee Crumpler, first African-American woman physician: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/celebrating-rebecca-lee-crumpler-first-african-american-physician
- A pretty detailed Wikipedia entry with lots of additional reading at the bottom: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebecca_Lee_Crumpler