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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fly Girl of the Week: Dr. Rebecca J. Cole (1846-1922)

Sadly, as is the case with many records of the achievements of African Americans of her generation, no images have survived of Dr. Rebecca J. Cole.

Dr. Rebecca Cole, an original fly girl and the second African-American woman to receive an M.D. degree in the United States, in 1867. Dr. Rebecca Cole was born and raised in Philadelphia and she completed her secondary education at the first co-educational high school for African Americans in the city. She then enrolled at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania near the end of the Civil War, and worked under the supervision of Dr. Ann Preston, the first woman dean of the school, after graduation, Dr. Cole went to work at Elizabeth Blackwell's New York Infirmary for Women and Children to gain clinical experience. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell assigned Dr. Cole the role of health visitor in the local community. She was responsible for dispensing practical advice to mothers living in poverty about the best ways to keep their families healthy.

Dr. Blackwell thought Dr. Cole had the ideal character for such work, and mentioned in her autobiography that she had "carried on this work with tact and care." Dr. Rebecca Cole practiced in South Carolina for a number of years, before returning to Philadelphia. In 1873, she opened a Women's Directory Center to provide medical and legal services to women and children in need. In January 1899, Dr. Cole was appointed superintendent of a home in Washington, D.C. run by the Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children. In her years of caring for families living poverty in the city of Washington, she was most appreciated for the difference she was able to make. As mentioned in one of the annual reports from the association: "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."

Source: National Library Of Medicine

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