Dr Rebecca J. Cole
Rebecca J Cole.jpeg
Born(1846-03-16)March 16, 1846
DiedAugust 14, 1922(1922-08-14) (aged 76)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Alma materWoman's Medical College of Pennsylvania
Known forSecond female African American physician
Scientific career
FieldsInternal medicine
InstitutionsNew York Infirmary for Women and Children
Doctoral advisor

Rebecca J. Cole (March 16, 1846 – August 14, 1922) was an American physician, organization founder and social reformer. In 1867, she became the second African-American woman to become a doctor in the United States, after Rebecca Lee Crumpler three years earlier.

Early life and education

Cole was born in Philadelphia on March 16, 1846, one of five children.[1] Throughout her life she faced racial and gender-based barriers to her medical education, training in all-female institutions which were run by the first generation of graduating female physicians.[2] Cole attended high school at the Institute for Colored Youth where the curriculum that included Latin, Greek, and mathematics, graduating in 1863. She went on to graduate from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1867, under the supervision of Ann Preston, the first woman to be dean of the school. The Women’s Medical College was founded by Quaker abolitionists and temperance reformers in 1850. Initially named the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, it was the first school to offer formal medical training to women with the culmination of an M.D.[3] Cole's graduate thesis was titled The Eye and Its Appendages.[4] In her senior year, Cole lived with fellow medical students Odelia Blinn and Martha E. Hutchings. Nearly thirty years later Blinn wrote an article detailing how crossing the 'color line' in Philadelphia nearly derailed Cole's studies at the college and her plans for a medical career.[5]


Following her graduation, Cole interned at Elizabeth Blackwell's New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children where she was assigned the task of going into tenements to teach prenatal care and hygiene to women.[6] Cole went on to briefly practice medicine in South Carolina before returning to Philadelphia. In 1873 Cole opened a Women's Directory Center with Dr. Charlotte Abbey which provided medical and legal services to disadvantaged women and children. In January 1899, Cole was appointed superintendent of a home run by the Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children in Washington, D.C.[7] The association's 1899 annual report stated that Cole possessed "all the qualities essential to such a position-ability, energy, experience, tact." A subsequent report noted that:[8]

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.

— Annual report of the National Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children, https://www.loc.gov/item/91898495/

Cole practiced medicine for fifty years. In 2015, she was chosen as an Innovators Walk of Fame honoree by the University City Science Center, Philadelphia.[9]


Cole died on August 14, 1922 at the age of 76. She is buried at Eden Cemetery in Collingdale, Pennsylvania.[10] Few records or photos of her have survived.[11]


  1. ^ "Rebecca J. Cole (1846-1922) •". 2007-11-17. Retrieved 2022-02-11.
  2. ^ Lyman, Darryl (2005). Great African-American Women. Middle Village, NY: J David. p. 279. ISBN 978-0-82460-459-2.
  3. ^ Fee, Elizabeth; Brown, Theodore M. (March 2004). ""An Eventful Epoch in the History of Your Lives"". American Journal of Public Health. 94 (3): 367. doi:10.2105/ajph.94.3.367. ISSN 0090-0036. PMC 1448257. PMID 14998795.
  4. ^ "Women Physicians: 1850s - 1970s: The eye and its appendages". Drexel University College of Medicine. Retrieved 2013-02-23.
  5. ^ Odelia Blinn, MD (May 18, 1896). "The Color Line in 1867". The Inter Ocean. p. 12.
  6. ^ Nimura, Janice P. (2021). The doctors Blackwell : how two pioneering sisters brought medicine to women--and women to medicine. New York, N.Y. ISBN 978-0-393-63554-6. OCLC 1155067347.
  7. ^ Clark Hine, Darlene; Thompson, Kathleen (1998). A Shining Thread of Hope (First ed.). New York, NY: Broadway Books. p. 163. ISBN 0-7679-0111-8.
  8. ^ "Thirty-seventh annual report of the National Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children, for the year ending January, 1900 ..." Library of Congress. Retrieved 2022-02-11.
  9. ^ "Science Center: Celebrating Women Innovators in 2015 Class of the Innovators Walk of Fame". University of Pennsylvania Almanac. Retrieved 30 January 2017.
  10. ^ "Library Exhibits :: Rebecca Cole". exhibits.library.villanova.edu. Retrieved 2022-02-11.
  11. ^ Magazine, Smithsonian; McNeill, Leila. "The Woman Who Challenged the Idea that Black Communities Were Destined for Disease". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2022-02-11.