Rebecca Lee Crumpler had one aim in life: to relieve the sufferings of others. And no amount of prejudice was going to stop her.
Yet, for too long no one has known her name, nor anything about what she accomplished despite seemingly insurmountable odds.
Rebecca Lee was born in Delaware in 1831, the daughter of Absolum Davis and Matilda Webber, but she would be raised by her aunt in Pennsylvania. These were the decades before the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation, and while Pennsylvania was then a Northern "free state" -- meaning it did not allow slavery -- most white doctors refused to see black patients. Rebecca's aunt was a sought-after healer and nurse for her local African-American community. Rebecca, it appears, wished to follow her aunt’s example. But she aspired to a higher goal: she wanted to be a doctor.
For a black woman to even dream of becoming a medical professional in those days required a huge leap of faith. In the 1850s, when Rebecca began to pursue her studies, only 300 of the 50,000 doctors in the United States were women, and they were all white. No female black doctor had ever been graduated. But these odds would not deter Rebecca. It simply meant she would have to work harder, which she was fully prepared to do.