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Celebrating Black Excellence: Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler

It is with great intention that we are launching The Aha! Moments Memo in what is known in the United States as Black History Month.

This month is set aside to highlight significant historical and contemporary contributions that Black Americans have made in the US and beyond. I’d like to share a bit about one of my very own inspirations. Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first Black woman in the United States to earn an M.D. degree. As the US Civil War ended, Dr. Crumpler moved to the South to support newly emancipated Black Americans with their healthcare needs through the Freedmen’s Bureau Medical Division. What Dr. Crumpler found when she arrived was hospitals that were under-resourced, understaffed, and neglected, and a healthcare program that had allotted only 100 doctors to care for 4 million newly emancipated humans. She learned that the Black community had been told they were biologically inferior and therefore couldn’t be helped or healed.

Dr. Crumpler decided to take matters into her own hands. She wrote The Book of Medical Discourses, In Two Parts – addressed directly to the Black community. This resource instructed Black families on how to take care of themselves, prevent infectious diseases, and treat basic ailments. It equipped the community with the tools they needed to improve their own health. Dr. Crumpler’s work was instrumental in shifting narratives and creating new perspectives on public health for the underserved. She inspired a stream of Black doctors and healthcare providers who dared to work outside of the limitations of established systems by creating solutions that spoke directly to the needs of the marginalized.

Dr. Crumpler daily inspires me to think beyond existing systems to create solutions that can effect change in real-time for those who need it most. She was one of my inspirations for creating The Melanated Mammary Atlas. I hope her story sparks a flame in you to rethink what is possible for those who need it most.


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