The Hyde Park Library has reopened! Now, the Friends of the Hyde Park Library want to hear from you. Take our survey online (https://bit.ly/36Xa9GP) or find a paper copy at the HP Branch. We want to hear from frequent users and those who have never visited before. Your responses will help us guide future planning and programming.
We’ll soon have the survey available in Haitian Creole and in Spanish so let us know and we’ll send it to you. If you have any questions, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
https:// www.nytimes.com/2021/ 07/16/obituaries/rebecca-lee-crumpler-overlooked.html
Overlooked No More: Rebecca Lee Crumpler, Who Battled Prejudice in Medicine
As the first Black woman to earn a medical degree in the United S tates, she persevered to make care accessible to women and Black communities , regardless of their ability to pay.
By Cindy Shmerler
Published July 16 , 2021 Updated July 17 , 2021
This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times.
For more than 125 years, people trampled – unknowingly – across the grass where Rebecca Lee Crumpler rests in peace alongside her husband, Arthur, at Fairview Cemetery in Boston.
Her burial plot was devoid of a gravestone even though she held a unique distinction: She was the first Black woman to receive a medical degree in the United States.
It would take more than a century, from her death in 1895 until last year, for Crumpler to be given proper recognition by a group of Black historians and physicians. Were it not for them, she might still be languishing in anonymity.
They had learned of Crumpler through the Rebecca Lee Society, a support group for Black women physicians in the 1980s, now believed to be defunct, that would occasionally roam the tree-lined grounds of the cemetery, near the edge of Mill Pond, in the Hyde Park neighborhood, looking for any evidence of her plot. People knew she had died in that neighborhood, and had consulted city records, but all they found was a brown patch of dirt where a gravestone should have been placed after interment.
Since her death, Crumpler’s legacy has been muddled by incorrect information. Some mistakenly thought that she was the second Black woman to be awarded a medical school degree, after Rebecca Cole, but Cole graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania three years after Crumpler earned her degree from the New England Female Medical College (now part of the Boston University School of Medicine) in 1864.
Several books and articles have featured photographs of a woman purported to be Crumpler, even though no pictures of her are known to exist. In “Gutsy Women,” a 2019 book by Hillary and Chelsea Clinton that celebrates historically significant women, there is a photo alongside an entry on Crumpler – but it is actually a photo of Mary Eliza Mahoney, the country’s first Black licensed nurse.
After the Civil War, Crumpler worked for the medical division of the United States Bureau of Refugees, also known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, an agency created by Congress during Reconstruction to provide services for emancipated slaves whom white physicians refused to see. But throughout her life, she was ignored, slighted or rendered insignificant, even invisible.
Because of her race and gender, Crumpler was denied admitting privileges to local hospitals, had trouble getting prescriptions filled by pharmacists and was often ridiculed by administrators and fellow doctors. Still she persevered, with the knowledge that Black communities had an increased risk of illness because they were subjected to difficult living conditions and a lack of access to preventive care.
“She focused on prevention, nutrition and attaining financial stability for one’s family, all relevant factors today;’ Melody McCloud, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Atlanta, said by phone. “Dr. Crumpler was a pioneer who blazed a trail upon which many other Black female physicians have trod, and now tread.”
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.
Rebecca Crumpler was born Rebecca Davis on Feb. 8, 1831, in Christiana, Del., to Matilda Weber and Absolum Davis. She explained her initial interest in healing in “A Book of Medical Discourses” (1883):
“Having been reared by a kind aunt in Pennsylvania, whose usefulness with the sick was continually sought, I early conceived a liking for, and sought every opportunity to be in a position to relieve the sufferings of others.”
She married Wyatt Lee, a Virginia laborer, in 1852 in Charlestown, Mass. She worked as a nurse there, assisting several doctors in the Boston area. They in turn supported her application to the New England Female Medical College, where she was awarded a state-funded scholarship.
After two years, however, she took a leave of absence to care for her ailing husband, who died of tuberculosis in 1863. She returned seven months later to complete her final term but was nearly stymied after some faculty members expressed reservations regarding the amount of time it had taken her to complete her coursework.
Several of the school’s patrons who were involved in the abolitionist movement offered their support. On March 1, 1864, the trustees voted to confer on her a “Doctress of Medicine” degree. She was 33.
At the time, said Vanessa Northington Gamble, a physician, historian and professor at George Washington University, there were 54,543 physicians in the country; 270 of them were women – all white – and 180 were Black men.
The New England Female Medical College would close in 1873 without ever conferring another medical degree on a Black woman.
In 1865, Rebecca Lee married Arthur Crumpler, who had arrived in Boston three years earlier as a fugitive slave and later worked as a porter. The couple had one daughter, Lizzie Sinclair Crumpler, in 1870, but she is believed to have died young.
By 1869, the Crumplers had moved back to Boston. They lived in the North Slope of Beacon Hill, then a predominantly Black community.
“A cheerful home,” Crumpler wrote, “with a small tract of land in the country with wholesome food and water is worth more to preserve health and life than a house in a crowded city with luxuries and 20 rooms.”
Her house, at 67 Joy Street, now has a plaque honoring her and is a stop on the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail.
From that house, Crumpler treated mostly women and children, regardless of their ability to pay. Her book, dedicated to nurses and mothers, is seen as a precursor to “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” (1984), considered the prenatal bible for countless pregnant women. It is full of admonishments.
“Children should not be asked if they like such and such things to eat, with the privilege of choosing that which will give them no nourishment to the blood;’ Crumpler wrote. She also said, “Parents should hold onto their children, and children should stand by their parents, until the last strand of the silken cord is broken.”
An article in 1894 in The Boston Globe described her book as “valuable” and Crumpler as “a very pleasant and intellectual woman” and “an indefatigable church worker.”
Crumpler died of fibroid tumors on March 9, 1895. She was 64. Her husband died in 1910.
In 2019 Vicky Gall, a history buff and president of the Friends of the Hyde Park Library, began a fund-raising campaign to have gravestones installed for them both. They were added at a ceremony on July 16, 2020, which Gall led.
“I didn’t do this as a feel-good moment,” Gall said by phone. “It was a historical moment. She didn’t know the importance of what she was doing at the time, but we recognize it now.”
There is no more trampled grass near the resting site of Rebecca Lee Crumpler. Instead, there is an awakening of her contributions to the medical community. As she wrote in “A Book of Medical Discourses”: “What we need today in every community is not a shrinking or flagging of womanly usefulness in this field of labor, but renewed and courageous readiness to do when and wherever duty calls.”
The library’s reopening date is now July 26th. The delay is due to the return and shelving of the books. Apparently much of the HP collection was taken away for storage during construction and for distribution to patrons at branches which were pick up sites.
Staff at the Hyde Park Library returned the week to prepare for the branch to reopen on July 19th. Yesterday IT staff began to reinstall the public computers. Hyde Park materials sent to other branches during the pandemic are slowly being sent back and reentered into the catalog. Work orders are in place for general cleaning inside and outside the building especially in the children’s garden.
Repair to the front steps/rail, and paint to the fence will likely not be done before opening, but will remain on the To DO list. Further landscaping is still need to the side historic garden area. We hope to do some planting in the Fall, and possibly add a plaque honoring Dr. Rebecca Crumpler, physician and author who lived in Hyde Park in the 1880s. She was a Boston medical pioneer being the first Black women to earn a medical degree in the US. (1864)
On a very positive note is the recognition given to Victoria Gall, the organization president by Keep Hyde Park Beautiful.
Here’s the direct link .
Send us comments, suggestions anytime, so we so we can be prepare.
Thanks to the City of Boston for the bulbs.
The Friends of the Hyde Park Library invite you to the Annual Meeting on Zoom.
When: Apr 13, 2021 06:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Register in advance for this meeting:
After the business meeting, Priscilla Foley, the Director of Neighborhood Services will share with us up to date information about the plans for reopening the libraries. The focus of course will be on what’s happening and will happen at our Hyde Park Branch.
A delightful essay on Dr. Crumpler. It very nicely links her career with the emerging fields of pediatrics and public health, with numerous thoughtful quotes from her book (AND a note that no verified photo of her exists!). Comments from a librarian at the Boston University School of Medicine.
Notice the remark about the advocacy of the Friends of the HP Library.
The Friends of the Hyde Park Library and the Hyde Park Historical Society have prepared a self guided tour of gravesites and monuments of interest in Fairview Cemetery. The cemetery, established in 1892, is a wonderful place to walk for exercise, enjoy nature and have a history lesson. The decision to do this tour developed from the project to fund raise and purchase a grave stone for Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the 1st Black women physician in the US. (1864).
When working on the project, committee members and others in the community began asking questions about who was buried in the cemetery besides Mayor Menino and John J. Enneking. Now less than a year later we share with you this tour guide.
You can download the map and the site locations here.
Please visit the cemetery when the daffodils are blooming. Bulbs, donated by Boston Blooms with Daffodils were planted at these sites and a few others.