Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler
First African-American Woman to Earn a Medical Degree
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first African-American woman to earn a medical degree. She devoted her life to improving health in the Black community through research and clinic work. When the Civil War ended, she realized that whole communities of newly freed Blacks in the South would urgently need medical care. So she left her Boston home and medical practice and moved to Richmond, Virginia.
Dr. Alexa Canady
First African-American Female Neurosurgeon
In 1976, at age 26, Dr. Alexa Canady became the first Black female neurosurgeon in the United States when she was accepted as a resident at the University of Minnesota. In 1986, after four years at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, Canady became chief of the hospital’s neurosurgery department. In 1993, she received the American Women’s Medical Association President’s Award. Canady’s research in neurosurgical techniques resulted in the invention of a programmable antisiphon shunt, which is used to treat excess fluid in the brain. She shares a U.S. patent for the device with two other neurosurgeons.
Dr. Jane Cooke Wright
First African-American Female President of New York Cancer Society
Dr. Jane Cooke Wright’s father set the bar pretty high by being one of the first Blacks to graduate from Harvard Medical School, the first Black doctor on staff at a New York City municipal hospital and New York’s first Black police surgeon. However, Jane Cook Wright successfully emulated his example. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson appointed her to the President’s Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke. In 1967, at the age of 48, Wright became professor of surgery, head of the cancer chemotherapy department, and associate dean at New York Medical College. These accomplishments made her the highest-ranking Black woman at a nationally recognized medical institution. In 1971, Wright also became the first female president of the New York Cancer Society.
Dr. M. Joycelyn Elders
First African-American Woman appointed Surgeon General of the United States
In 1961, 28-year-old Dr. M. Joycelyn Elders became the chief resident at the University of Arkansas, leading a charge of white, male residents and interns. She was the first person in the state of Arkansas to be board certified in pediatric endocrinology. In 1987, Gov. Bill Clinton appointed Elders head of the Arkansas Department of Health, and in 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed her the 16th surgeon general of the United States. She was the first Black person and the second female to hold this position.