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Join us as we celebrate and spotlight remarkable Black women whose stories deserve greater recognition!


(There are no known photographs of Rebecca Crumpler. The photo below is from

Rebecca Lee Crumpler, born in 1831, defied racial and gender barriers to become the first African American woman in the United States to earn a medical degree (MD).

As a child, Dr. Crumpler would accompany her aunt to care for sick neighbors. These trips sparked her interest in medicine. In 1860, she was the first and only African American woman to be accepted to the New England Medical College in Boston. During this time, Black women and men were not allowed to attend most medical schools in the U.S. Dr. Crumpler finished her medical degree right when the Civil War ended leaving millions of newly freed slaves needing help. Dr. Crumpler made it her mission to provide care and support despite backlash and racism from white colleagues.

Returning to Boston, she continued her medical work with a focus on treating women and children, ultimately publishing her Book of Medical Discourses in 1883, which stands as one of the earliest medical publications by an African American. The book covered many topics like her experience as a doctor, maternal and child health, pregnancy, nursing, and teething. It was even described by Scientific American magazine as the forerunner to the 1984 book, What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Crumpler's legacy as a physician and writer endures despite the scarcity of surviving information about her life.

More about A Book of Medical Discourses here:


(Photo credit: Unknown Photographer)

Mary Eliza Mahoney, born 1845 in Boston, Massachusetts is noted as the first African American licensed nurse in the U.S. Mary was the daughter of freed slaves and knew early on the importance of racial equality. In her teens, Mary knew she wanted to become a nurse, so she began working for a local hospital for women and children. Mary went on to work for the New England Hospital for Women and Children for 15 years, occupying many positions such as janitor, cook, washerwoman, and nurse's aide.

In 1878, Mahoney was one of 42 students admitted to the hospital's graduate nursing program where she gained first-hand experience. Mahoney graduated as the only African American woman to become a licensed nurse. Faced with discrimination, she opted for a private nursing career, serving the needs of individual clients.

In 1896, Mahoney joined the Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada which was predominately white and not welcoming of Black nurses. This discrimination led Mahoney to co-found the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses to ensure equality for Black nurses.

Following years of working as a private nurse, Mahoney assumed the role of director of the Howard Orphanage Asylum for Black children from 1911 to 1912. After 40 years of nursing, Mahoney retired but continued to advocate for women's rights. After the 19th Amendment was affirmed in 1920, Mahoney was one of the first women to register to vote. Mary Mahoney passed away at the age of 80 after a 3-year battle with breast cancer.


sepia photograph of Black woman wearing black suit jacket

(Photo credit: Unknown Photographer)

Dorothy Boulding Ferebee born in 1898, was a pioneering obstetrician and prominent advocate for public health, civil rights, and women's rights. From childhood, Ferebree knew she wanted to become a doctor. 

In 1924, Ferebree graduated from Tufts University College of Medicine as the only Black woman. Ferebree faced discrimination because of her race and gender, but still persevered and finished as one of the top 5 students in her class. Despite Ferebee’s success in medical school, she struggled to find a hospital that would accept her for her residency due to her race. Eventually, Dorothy was accepted by a Black-owned hospital to do her residency. At Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, D.C. she began promoting contraception and sex education for women. 

Ferebee's dedication to serving underserved communities led her to found the Southeast Neighborhood House, providing crucial medical and social services to African American residents. She also directed the Mississippi Health Project, which offered medical care to Black sharecroppers and their families in the Jim Crow South. 

As president of the National Council of Negro Women, she continued her activism for healthcare education and civil rights, issuing a "Nine Point Program" outlining initiatives for fundamental civil rights advancements. Ferebee's advocacy extended internationally, with appointments to various organizations including the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization. 

Despite personal tragedies and challenges, Ferebee's legacy as a compassionate and determined leader in healthcare and social reform endures. She passed away in 1980, leaving a profound impact on the advancement of public health and civil rights.


Black and white photograph of Black woman standing in front of wall of pictures

Untitled (All My Babies Portrait)

(Photo credit: Collection of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Robert Galbraith)

Mary Francis Hill Coley was a Black midwife from Albany, Georgia. During her career, Coley delivered over 3,000 babies! "In the 1952 documentary, “All My Babies,” Coley demonstrated how a well-trained lay midwife could deliver healthy babies even in the poorest conditions while acting as an intermediary between patients, nurses, physicians, and members of the local community" (Smithsonian). When Coley passed away, her funeral program noted her legacy was this film (Wangui Muigai).


Black and white photograph of Black woman wearing buttoned shirt and glasses

Katherine Johnson poses for a portrait at work at NASA Langley Research Center in 1966

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Katherine Johnson born August 26, 1918, was a mathematician who played a major role in sending astronauts to the moon. She excelled in mathematics from a young age and at the age of 10 years old she attended high school. 

Katherine graduated from West Virginia State College with Bachelor’s degrees in Mathematics and French. After completing her undergraduate programs, Katherine was selected to be one of the first three Black students to enroll in a graduate program at West Virginia University. 

Katherine began her work in astronautics in 1953 at NACA’s West Area Computing unit, a segregated Blacks-only unit. Johnson's career flourished here and her groundbreaking work in trajectory analysis played a pivotal role in America's space program, particularly during John Glenn's orbital mission in 1962. Johnson's contributions extended to numerous other space missions, including Project Apollo and the Space Shuttle, and she authored or coauthored 26 research reports during her 33-year tenure at Langley. 

Her remarkable achievements were recognized in 2015 when President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Katherine Johnson's legacy as a pioneering mathematician and space pioneer continues to inspire generations, and her impact on NASA and the advancement of human space exploration will never be forgotten.


Black and white photograph of Black woman smiling and wearing hoop earrings

(Photo credit: Governor’s Press Office staff. GOVERNOR PRESS OFFICE (Photographs, Electronic) MSA T275.)

Marilyn Hughes Gaston born January 31, 1939, in Cincinnati Ohio, was the first Black woman to lead a public health service bureau, the Bureau of Primary Health Care in the United States Department of Health and Human Services. 

Marilyn knew since she was a young girl that she wanted to be a doctor, but due to her poor upbringing, she was discouraged. After graduating from Miami University with a degree in zoology, her dreams of becoming a doctor were reignited and began her studies at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. 

During medical school, she was the only Black woman in her class. During Gaston’s internship, she became interested in sickle cell disease (SCD). After a baby was admitted to the hospital with undiagnosed SCD, Gaston made it her mission to learn more about the disease. In 1986 Dr. Gaston published a groundbreaking study that identified SCD treatment for babies to prevent life-threatening infections. Her work highlighted the importance of screening newborns for SCD at birth. 


Photograph of Black woman wearing an astronaut suit and holding a helmet

(Photo credit: NASA)

Mae Carol Jemison born on October 17, 1956, in Decatur, Alabama, has blazed trails as a doctor, engineer, and NASA astronaut, becoming the first African American woman to journey into space in 1992.

Mae Jemison had a passion for science and a determination to reach the stars, inspired by her childhood idol, actress Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek fame. She grew up watching the Apollo broadcasting on TV but was upset that there were no female astronauts. 

Graduating from Stanford University with degrees in Chemical Engineering and African and African-American studies in 1977, Jemison faced racial discrimination but emerged as a leader, serving as president of the Black Student Union and showcasing African American experiences through performing arts. After earning her Doctorate in Medicine from Cornell in 1981, she joined the Peace Corps as a medical officer in Africa before pursuing her dream of space exploration, joining NASA's astronaut program in 1987. 

Her childhood dream became reality when she made history as the first Black woman to travel into space. In 1987, Jemison was selected as 1 of 15 applicants out of 2,000 to participate in NASA’s Space Shuttle program. 

Following her historic spaceflight aboard the space shuttle Endeavor, Jemison continued her groundbreaking work, founding The Jemison Group to promote science and social change, establishing educational initiatives like The Earth We Share and the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, and serving on numerous boards and organizations dedicated to advancing science and technology. 

Mae Jemison's legacy as a pioneering astronaut and advocate for STEM education and social progress continues to inspire generations!


Photograph of Black woman wearing beaded necklaces and eyeglasses

(Photo credit: Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States)

Ketanji Brown Jackson born September 14, 1970, in Washington, DC, is the first Black woman to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Judge Jackson’s love for law dates back to her watching her father complete his law homework while she worked on her preschool homework.

Despite facing discouragement from a high school guidance counselor, she pursued her dreams relentlessly, excelling in speech and debate, and eventually achieving magna cum laude honors at Harvard University and cum laude at Harvard Law School, where she also served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review. Judge Jackson's unwavering determination and intellectual prowess are evident in her remarkable journey. On February 25, 2022, President Biden nominated Jackson to become the 116th Associate Justice of the United States and in early April her nomination was confirmed. 


Photograph of Black woman wearing red lipstick and earrings in front of orange background

Tarana Burke born September 12, 1973, in The Bronx, New York, is an activist, community organizer, and founder of the ‘Me Too” Movement’. Tarana has dedicated her life to being an advocate for sexual assault survivors. Tarana Burke’s activist roots began as a teenager when she organized campaigns that highlighted socioeconomic disparities. After college, Burke began working for 21st Century where she encountered several women who had experienced sexual violence. Burke also being a survivor of sexual assault shifted her attention and resources to creating a safe space for women of color to share their stories. Tarana started the “Me Too” movement in 2006 to create togetherness among survivors and to emphasize the alarming occurrence of sexual harassment and assault. In 2017, the “Me Too” movement spread worldwide. The hashtag was used on Twitter, more than 19 million times! Burke continues to advocate for social change and empower marginalized communities, leaving a lasting legacy in the fight against sexual violence and injustice.

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