3 African American Women from 3 Different Centuries Who Changed the Face of Medicine

Before there was an emphasis on the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), African American women were blazing a trail. For centuries, they have built a firm foundation of achievement and excellence in every area. 

Fighting racism and sexism, many rose above the fray to become leaders in the field of medicine. In honor of Black History Month, let’s take a closer look at three women from three different centuries who became pioneers in medical achievements.

The 1800s – Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler

Dr. Crumpler paved the way for women, particularly African-American women, in medicine. She was the first African American woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. 

Opportunities for women in medicine were few and far between in the mid-1800s. Women were allowed to pursue certification as midwives or nurses, but it was unheard of to attend medical school to become doctors. 

The school she attended was first known as the Boston Female Medical College and later became the New England Female Medical College (NEFMC). It was the first medical school in the nation to admit an African American woman, Rebecca Crumpler.

As the Civil War ended, Dr. Crumpler headed south to provide medical care for 10,000 freed slaves living in a tent city outside of Richmond, VA. Hospitals refused to admit her patients, and she was denied prescriptions and supplies. But Dr. Crumpler persevered for several years.

Later, Dr. Crumpler published a book titled A Book of Medical Discourses, which focused on treating infants, young children, and women of childbearing age. The book was dedicated to nurses and mothers, focusing on maternal and pediatric medical care. 

The 1900s – Dr. Mildred Fay Jefferson

A child prodigy, Mildred Fay Jefferson, earned her bachelor’s degree from Texas College at the ripe old age of 16. She was the first African American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School, class of 1951, and the first female doctor at Boston University Medical Center.

Labeled an “anti-abortion activist,” Dr. Jefferson was an active supporter of the right-to-life movement beginning in 1970. She founded the Massachusetts Citizens for Life, helped establish the National Right to Life Committee, and was the Founding President of the Right to Life Crusade, Inc. 

Dr. Jefferson was a powerhouse, bringing abortion into the political arena. Despite discrimination and gender inequality, she influenced many in the Republican party, including President Ronald Reagan. Dr. Jefferson served tirelessly until her death in 2010. 

The 2000s – Dr. Anthereca Lane 

In 2023, Dr. Anthereca Edmerson Lane, a prominent pro-life leader in the Black community, chaired the first-ever Black Life Conference, sponsored by the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG). 

Dr. Lane is a board-certified OB-GYN, AAPLOG Board Member, head of the Medical Professionals of Color Subsection, and a member of the Black Life Collective. At the conference, she presented “Affirming the Protection of Black Mothers: Why Maternal Mortality Is Relevant to the Conversation.”

As the owner and founder of Lane Women’s Health On Demand in Cincinnati, Ohio, Dr. Lane passionately serves the women in her community. She focuses on maternal mortality in the Black community, health education, and female health concerns. She is particularly interested in minimally invasive gynecologic surgery using cutting-edge technology, including robotics. 

As a graduate of The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Dr. Lane specializes in the female reproductive system and care for women during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. She strives to provide compassionate, respectful, quality care that enhances women’s lives.

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