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Fundraising effort underway in Hyde Park to honor Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, first Black woman to earn medical degree in US

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler and her husband are buried in Fairview Cemetery in Hyde Park. The headstone will be placed in the area of the stick.
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler and her husband are buried in Fairview Cemetery in Hyde Park. The headstone will be placed in the area of the stick.Friends of the Hyde Park Library

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who made history as the first Black woman in the United States to earn a medical degree in 1864, is buried in an unmarked grave in Hyde Park.

A local nonprofit wants to change that.

The Friends of the Hyde Park Library has teamed up with the Hyde Park Historical Society to raise money to install a headstone at Crumpler’s grave site.

“This woman is not only important to Hyde Park, she’s important to Boston, to medicine, and to the African-American and Black community... she deserves something,” said Victoria Gall, president of the Friends of the Hyde Park Library, which launched the fundraising campaign to honor the Civil War-era physician last week.

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Crumpler is buried beside her husband, Arthur, at Fairview Cemetery in Hyde Park. The new headstone would pay tribute to both of them.

According to her biography on the US National Library of Medicine’s website, Crumpler was the first African-American woman to earn an M.D. degree, and was one of the first Black citizens to author a medical publication.

In the introduction to her book, titled “A Book of Medical Discourses," Crumpler wrote about her humble beginnings and how she came to be a pioneering 19th century physician.

“It may be well to state here that, 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 relieve the sufferings of others," she wrote.

“Later in life I devoted my time, when best I could, to nursing as a business, serving under different doctors for a period of eight years (from 1852 to 1860); most of the time at my adopted home in Charlestown, Middlesex County, Massachusetts,” she added. "From these doctors I received letters commending me to the faculty of the New England Female Medical College, whence, four years afterward, I received the degree of doctress of medicine.”

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After graduating from medical school in 1864, Crumpler practiced medicine in Boston and then went to Richmond, Va., where she “she joined other black physicians caring for freed slaves who would otherwise have had no access to medical care... even though black physicians experienced intense racism working in the postwar South,” her biography states.

“At the close of my services in that city,” she wrote, “I returned to my former home, Boston, where I entered into the work with renewed vigor, practicing outside, and receiving children in the house for treatment; regardless, in a measure, of remuneration.”

Crumpler lived on Joy Street on Beacon Hill and then moved to Hyde Park, according to her biography.

Gall said the Friends hope to raise at least $5,000 to purchase a headstone for Crumpler and her husband. Checks can be mailed to Friends of the Hyde Park Library, For: Crumpler Fund, 35 Harvard Ave., Hyde Park, MA, 02136. Donations can also be made online at www.friendshplibrary.org.


Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.