Delaware physicians, health advocates, and the Delaware Humanities council gathered in Dover in honor of the newly passed resolution marking June 21st as “Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler Day” in Delaware, celebrating the nation’s first Black woman physician.
The House Concurrent Resolution 97 honors Dr. Crumpler, sometimes referred to as “Doctress Crumpler” who was born in 1831 in Christina, Delaware. Graduating in 1864 from the New England Female Medical College, Dr. Crumpler became the Nation’s first Black woman to earn an M.D. degree. When Dr. Crumpler attended and graduated medical school there were 54,543 physicians in the United States, of which only 300 were women and none were Black. Dr. Crumpler completed medical school and published a book when very few Black Americans were able to gain admittance to medical college, let alone publish works.
Dr. Crumpler’s career included working with other Black physicians in the Freedman’s Bureau, caring for people who had been enslaved and would otherwise have had no access to medical care. Black physicians experienced intense racism while providing medical care in the post-war South. Along with pursuing medicine, Dr. Crumpler made significant contributions to science and medicine by publishing her 1883 book “A Book of Medical Discourses.” Her book is one of the very first publications by a Black author and is believed to be the first medical text written by a Black author.
Delaware Humanities, in collaboration with Black Mothers in Power and members of the National Medical Association, First State Chapter held multiple public events this year to discuss Dr. Crumpler’s book, work, and legacy. This joint resolution encourages the agencies of Delaware, interested organizations, groups, and individuals to honor the contributions of Black women to science and medicine, noting that systemic racism and anti-Blackness continue to affect both patients and medical practitioners in the U.S.
Delaware physician and NMA First State Chapter member Dr. Marshala Lee, who championed the resolution as the presentation speaker, urges others to continue walking in Dr. Crumpler’s footsteps:
“Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was a pioneer who blazed the trail for Black female physicians such as myself. She spent much of her life dedicated to improving the health of the underserved and otherwise uncared-for community members regardless of their ability to pay. In honor of Dr. Crumpler, we must continue to work collectively to end health disparities, increase health workforce diversity, and address the social determinants of health. We must keep her legacy alive.”
Delaware Humanities is the Delaware state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and as such is a 501(c)(3) organization that is part of a network of 56 humanities councils across the nation. Founded in 1973, Delaware Humanities provides educational and cultural opportunities to Delawareans through original programming and grants for non-profit organizations.
Black Mothers in Power seeks to eradicate racial health disparities for Black birthing people and Black babies throughout Delaware.
Founded in 1895, The National Medical Association (NMA) is the collective voice of African American physicians and the leading force for parity and justice in medicine and the elimination of disparities in health.