Dr. Rebecca Crumpler and Dr. Marie Maynard Daly
This is my March 2021 series on Important Women in American Medical History. The order of the women I am talking about this year is based only on the order in which they appear in this photo. I hope you enjoy learning about these amazing women!
Did you catch last week that Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to be granted (in 1847) a medical degree in the United States? Let’s be clear – this does not mean women did not act as doctors and treat patients before that!
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler – “Doctress of Medicine”
Dr. Crumpler lived a trailblazing path to becoming the first African-American woman to receive a medical doctor degree in the United States.
Born in Delaware in 1831, she was raised by an aunt in Pennsylvania who provided medical care to the community out of her home. Watching this first hand inspired Crumpler to work first as a nurse, then enter medical school in 1860 at the New England Female Medical College. While she was there for four years, she was the only African American person in her class. In her own writings, she uses the title “Doctress of Medicine” in reference to her medical degree.
At the time she received her medical degree, she was the only African American out of 300 female doctors, out of over 54,000 physicians in the U.S. Talk about overcoming the odds!
She worked for a time for the Freedmen’s Bureau in Virginia, caring for freed slaves whom white doctors refused to treat. She endured persistent racism and sexism in her life and her work, including being ignored by other physicians and pharmacists not filling her prescriptions.
Dr. Crumpler spent the last part of her life and career in Boston. Many honors have been bestowed on her since her death in 1895. Her last home is on the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail – I can’t wait to visit there next time I am in Boston!
“I early conceived a liking for, and sought every opportunity to relieve the sufferings of others.” Rebecca Lee Crumpler
Dr. Marie Maynard Daly – 1st African American Woman to Receive PhD in Chemistry
With Dr. Daly, we come forward into the 20th century.
Born in 1921 in the Queens area of New York, Daly fulfilled her father’s dream of being a chemist through her career path. An exceptional student in high school and college, she went on to achieve her master’s degree in chemistry at NYU, and ultimately her PhD in chemistry from Columbia University in 1947 – the first time an African American woman was granted this degree.
Dr. Daly enjoyed teaching. She also worked hard to improve the representation of minorities in higher education and in the sciences. She received many honors in her later years, before she died in 2003 at age 82. In addition to honors she received, she also established a scholarship for minority students at the college she attended, in honor of her father, who wanted to be a chemist but could not finish college due to lack of money.
Daly did groundbreaking work on protein function that was cited by Watson when he and Crick accepted the Nobel Prize for describing the structure of DNA. She was the first to make a connection between high blood pressure and the development of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and the first to connect cholesterol with blocked arteries.
She was truly a pioneer!
“Courage is like…a habit, a virtue: you get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging.” Marie Maynard Daly, PhD