REBECCA COLE Biography - Famous Medicine & health care related men and women


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Cole, Rebecca J. (1846-1922)                                                           
Rebecca J. Cole was the second African American woman to earn a medical degree         
in the United States. Cole was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1846.             
Nothing is known of her early childhood or of her parents.                             
Rebecca Cole completed high school at the Institute for Colored Youth in               
Philadelphia in 1863. Afterward, she was accepted to the Woman’s Medical College     
of Pennsylvania (now a part of Drexel University). When she earned her medical         
degree in 1867, she was the college’s first African American graduate.               
Dr. Cole then became a resident physician at the New York Infirmary for Indigent       
Women and Children where she made house calls to the poor to provide pre- and         
post-natal care and taught families about hygiene. During this time she worked         
with the first white female physician, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell. After practicing       
briefly in South Carolina, she returned to Philadelphia where she co-founded the       
Women’s Directory Center with Dr. Charlotte Abbey in 1873 which offered medical     
and legal services to poor women. In 1899 Dr. Cole moved to Washington D.C.           
where she worked for the Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women         
and Children as the superintendent of a group home.                                   
As an expert working directly with poor African Americans, she spoke out against       
W.E.B. Dubois’ assertion that poor hygiene practices led to high mortality rates     
among blacks. Dr. Cole published an article in The Woman’s Eye in which she         
blamed the white medical establishment’s unwillingness to provide proper medical     
care for poor blacks and the discriminatory social conditions which forced black       
people to live in unsanitary slums for high mortality rates. After fifty years         
practicing medicine and working with the poor, Dr. Rebecca J. Cole died in 1922.