Rebecca J. Cole: Pioneering Physician


Drawing of Rebecca Cole.

Today we celebrate the life of Rebecca Cole. Rebecca Cole was an American doctor. In 1867, she became the second African-American woman to become a doctor in the United States after Rebecca Crumpler‘s achievement three years earlier. Everyday is Black History. Cole then interned at Elizabeth Blackwell‘s New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children. Everyday is Black History.

Cole was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Cole attended the Institute for Colored Youth, graduating in 1863. She then went on to graduate from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1867, under the supervision of Ann Preston. Her graduate medical thesis was titled The Eye and Its Appendages. Afterwards Cole interned at Elizabeth Blackwell’s New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children.

In the autobiography of physician Elizabeth Blackwell she states “In addition to the usual departments of hospital and dispensary practice, which included the visiting of poor patients at their own homes, we established a sanitary visitor. This post was filled by one of our assistant physicians, whose special duty it was to give simple, practical instruction to poor mothers on the management of infants and the preservation of the health of their families. An intelligent young coloured physician, Dr. Cole, who was one of our resident assistants, carried on this work with tact and care. Experience of its results serve to show that the establishment of such a department would be a valuable addition to every hospital.”

Cole went on to practice in South Carolina, then returned to Philadelphia, and in 1873 opened a Women’s Directory Center to provide medical and legal services to destitute women and children. In January 1899, she was appointed superintendent of a home, run by the Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children in Washington, D.C.. The annual report for that year stated that she possessed “all the qualities essential to such a position-ability, energy, experience, tact.” A subsequent report noted that: Dr. Cole herself has more than fulfilled the expectations of her friends. With a clear and comprehensive view of her whole field of action, she has carried out her plans with the good sense and vigor which are a part of her character, while her cheerful optimism, her determination to see the best in every situation and in every individual, have created around her an atmosphere of sunshine that adds to the happiness and well-being of every member of the large family.Although Cole practiced medicine for fifty years, few records survive, and little to no images of her remain.

Rebecca J, Cole was a remarkable woman. Lets honor her today. She had to work through the severe racial and gender biases that existed at the time to become one of the first black female physicians. She is also a woman who knew her worth. Racism and sexism did not stop her from attain success. Black women we must also do the same. We endure racism and sexism now, but should it stop us. No! It should not. It should propel us farther, for we know that little is expected of us. However, their expectations do not define our ability to become the greatness we cultivate. Strive to define you and become great despite the odds. ~Know Your Worth~ -M. Millie

Dr. Rebecca Cole

Only surviving image of Rebecca Cole.


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