“Surely if women ask no questions of the doctors, no answers will be given.” When Rebecca Lee Crumpler wrote this sentence in her book in 1883, most doctors were male, and few were men of color. Crumpler was the first female African-American doctor, earning her M.D. degree in 1864 from the New England Female Medical College (NEFMC).
Hers was an era when women often didn’t speak if not addressed directly. And while a lot has changed, the idea of self-advocacy in medical care and medical education seems as important today as it did then: look no further than the way Serena Williams had to fight to get the care she needed when faced with life-threatening complications post-delivery.
For these reasons and more, it’s a shame that few know the name Rebecca Crumpler while Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in the United States, graduating in 1849, is well known in the history of medicine. Racism and sexism constitute a one-two blow to black women in medicine and in medical education settings. Continue reading