Happy Women’s History Month! This month, we’re proud to highlight revolutionary Black women who made strides in the medical field and ultimately, unlocked doors that led to advancements in medicine.
Black women have been practicing medicine for centuries, starting with informal training as midwives and herbalists to support and heal their communities. These skilled women worked as slaves, served during war and as free women in their trades.
We’re highlighting four African-American women who have contributed to new research, advances and innovations in medicine.
Rebecca Lee Crumpler
In 1864, following years of working as a nurse seeking “every opportunity to relieve the suffering of others,” Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first Black woman in the United States to receive an MD degree. In 1883, she wrote A Book of Medical Discourses: In Two Parts, which was one of the first publications about medicine written by an African American.
Learn more about Rebecca
Jane Cooke Wright, MD
Jane Cooke Wright, MD became the head of the Cancer Research Foundation at just 33 where she worked to create an innovative technique to test the effect of drugs on cancer cells by using patient tissue rather than laboratory mice.
She is the daughter of Dr. Louis Wright, a successful surgeon and medical researcher who was also the first African-American to be considered a staff physician at a New York City hospital. Jane was one of the first Black graduates of Harvard Medical School and after earning her own medical degree, went on to work alongside her father at the Cancer Research Foundation at Harlem Hospital established in 1948.
She went on to work as the director of cancer chemotherapy at New York University Medical Center and became an associate dean at New York Medical College. The New York Cancer Society elected Dr. Wright as its first woman president in 1971.
Learn more about Jane
Alexa Irene Canady, MD
Alexa Irene Canady, MD, became the first Black neurosurgeon in the United States in 1981. This achievement was followed by becoming the chief of neurosurgery at Children’s Hospital of Michigan just two years later. It was there where she dedicated decades of work as a pediatric neurosurgeon caring for young patients facing life-threatening illnesses, gunshot wounds, head trauma, brain tumors and spine abnormalities.
Learn more about Alexa.
Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Shanta Corbett
Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Shanta Corbett is a viral immunologist. She is an Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Shutzer Assistant Professor at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute since June 2021.
In 2014, Corbett was appointed to the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health (NIAID NIH) based in Bethesda, Maryland as the scientific lead of the VRC’s COVID-19 Team, with research efforts aimed at COVID-19 vaccines. Kizzmekia Corbett and her team became the first of its kind in the world to start the early stage of clinical trials for Moderna (COVID-19 vaccine), and the fastest progress ever toward a possible vaccine.
Learn more about Kizzmekia.
These black women are just a few examples of countless women, past and present, serving as everyday heroes in our communities. We salute you!