Rebecca Lee’s Medical Training

 Rebecca Lee wrote in A Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts, that she worked for physicians in Charlestown, MA for a few years before being encouraged to apply to the New England Female Medical College. The school moved locations a few times , and Rebecca Lee may not have attended class in the building illustrated below.


Credit: Boston University Alumni Medical Library Archives

New England Female Medical College (NEFMC), originally Boston Female Medical College, was founded in 1848 by Samuel Gregory  and was the first school to train women in the field of medicine. It merged with Boston University to become the Boston University School of Medicine in 1874.

The main motivation for the school’s foundation was the belief that male physicians should not generally assist in childbirth.  Founder Samuel Gregory saw what he called “man-midwifery” as unnatural and improper and believed that women should be given formal medical education in order to become certified midwives and attend to their own sex.  

Requirements for Admission and Graduation

Applicants for admission must satisfy the Faculty that they are of unexceptionable moral character, and that they possess a good preparatory education. The candidates for the Degree of Doctor of Medicine must have pursued medical studies, under the direction of a respectable practitioner of Medicine, for three years, including the time of attending Medical Lectures, certificates of which studies will be required; and must have attended two full Courses of Lectures, one of which must have been in this College. The candidate must sustain a satisfactory examination in all the branches taught in the Institution; and, at the time of application for the Degree (to be made at least three weeks before the close of the term), she must present the Graduation Fee, and a Thesis, written in her own hand, on some medical subject. The Thesis must be read and defended before the Faculty, if required; and it will be retained in the archives of the Institution or published if thought advisable.  

1859-1860 class listUnfortunately, the BU Medical Library Archives holds no unique or original materials of Dr. Lee’s time at the college except for what’s was written in annual reports.

The Course of Lectures at the NEFMC

Theory and Practice of Medicine

General principles and pathology— a description of diseases, and the most approved modes of treatment.

Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Chemistry

Principles of Modern Chemistry by illustrations and experiments. More particular attention will be paid to Organic Chemistry, and those branches of this science connected with Materia Medica. The natural and commercial history of the most important medicinal agents, illustrating his descriptions by samples of genuine and spurious drugs, drawings, dried specimens, &c.; and will treat of their therapeutic action upon the human system.

 Anatomy and Surgery

Instruction will be both theoretical and practical; and the course will be illustrated by the usual facilities and by a large collection of apparatus, including manikins, models, and other preparations.

Obstetrics and Diseases of Women and Children

These subjects will be fully treated by Prof. Zakrzewska; and the students will have whatever advantages the Institution may afford for observation and practice in these departments.

Physiology and Hygiene

The course of lectures will embrace the usual topics in this department; and will be illustrated, as far as practicable, by the apparatus of the Institution.

Clinical Department

For the accommodation and medical treatment of lying-in and other women and children, open to students daily in term-time and through the year. This department includes a Dispensary, open daily, from 9 to 10, A.M., to women and children, who receive gratuitous advice and medicine. Graduates of the Institution can at all times have access to this department.


Rebecca Lee’s tuition was paid from the scholarship fund endowed by the Honorable John Wade.


Her husband Wyatt Lee died in 1863 and although there are some undocumented reports that she struggled during her studies, she successfully graduated in 1864 and became the women we respect and honor today.

The following passage  appeared  in the ‘News Item’s’ column in The Congregationalist  on page 43 of the March 11, 1864 edition.

The New England Female Medical College  held its sixteen anniversary, Wednesday afternoon the 2nd. The Doctress of Medicine was conferred upon the graduates Mary  Lockwood Allen of Wiliston Vt., Elizabeth Kimball of Reading, and Rebecca Lee of Boston. Addresses were made by the Rev. Geo. H. Hepworth, Rev. Dr. Randall, and Rev. Dr. Parker, the President. Allusion was made by the first speaker to the fact that one of the graduates belonged to the African race and he regarded it as a very happy omen. The addresses were of a highly encouraging character.


Further Reading:


  We are considering other ways to honor Dr. Crumpler since we have successfully achieved the original goal of $5,000. We are  now in the process of choosing headstones, and have begun initial planning of a July,  ‘Celebration of Life ‘ service. 


Two ways to support the Crumpler project

  1. Make out a check to Friends of the Hyde Park Branch Library indicating that it is for the Crumpler Fund. Address: Hyde Park Library, 35 Harvard Avenue, Hyde Park, MA, 02136
  2. Use a credit card with the Paypal buttons below. Please supply your name, phone number and email address when prompted.

The Friends of the Hyde Park Library is a federally recognized 501(c)3 organization.

Tax ID# 04-2774183

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