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GWIMS Historical Spotlight


Rebecca Lee Crumpler, MD (1831 – 1895)

The first African American woman in the United States to earn an MD degree, Rebecca Lee Crumpler was inspired by an aunt who took care of many ill neighbors. “I early conceived a liking for, and sought every opportunity to relieve the suffering of others,” wrote Crumpler in her groundbreaking 1883 publication, A Book of Medical Discourses: In Two Parts. Crumpler gained entrance to the New England Female Medical College in Boston, Massachusetts, after working for eight years as a nurse in nearby Charlestown and receiving letters from doctors commending her. When she completed her education in 1864, she became the only black graduate in the school’s history. Following the Civil War, Crumpler moved to Richmond, Virginia, to care for formerly enslaved people, where she suffered rampant racism and sexism. Still, the experience taught her a great deal about providing care, Crumpler said, and when she returned home to Boston, she served her patients with “renewed vigor.”

Note: No photos of Rebecca Lee Crumpler are known to exist.

Mary Anning (1799 – 1847)

In 1811, Mary Anning’s brother spotted what he thought was a crocodile skeleton in a seaside cliff near the family’s Lyme Regis, England, home. He charged his 11-year-old sister with its recovery, and she eventually dug out a skull and 60 vertebrae, selling them to a private collector for £23. This find was no croc, though, and was eventually named Ichthyosaurus, the “fish-lizard.” Thus began Anning’s long career as a fossil hunter. In addition to ichthyosaurs, she found long-necked plesiosaurs, a pterodactyl and hundreds, possibly thousands, of other fossils that helped scientists to draw a picture of the marine world 200 million to 140 million years ago during the Jurassic. She had little formal education and so taught herself anatomy, geology, paleontology and scientific illustration. Scientists of the time traveled from as far away as New York City to Lyme Regis to consult and hunt for fossils with Anning.