Badass Scientist of the Week: Dr. Rebecca Cole
Dr. Rebecca Cole (1846–1922) was a physician, a social reformer, and the second African-American women to graduate from medical school in the United States. She was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and studied a rigorous curriculum of Latin, Greek, and mathematics at an all-black high school called the Institute for Colored Youth. She then attended the New England Female Medical College, which was founded in 1848 and whose first graduate was Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first white female physician. The institution was run by women from the first generation of female physicians. After graduating in 1867, Cole went on to work at the New York Infirmary for Women and Children (founded by Blackwell in 1857), where she taught hygiene and prenatal/infant care to low-income families. Cole practiced in Columbia, South Carolina, for a short time, before opening a Women’s Directory Center in Philadelphia in 1873, providing free medical and legal services to women and children living in poverty, helping prevent feticide, infanticide, baby farming, and child abandonment. In 1899, Cole was appointed superintendant of the Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children in Washington, D.C, and for much of her life she was a sought-after public lecturer on public health. She had a pretty badass career, overcoming huge gender and racial barriers, and even being bold enough to call white doctors out on their bullshit—at the time, the medical community claimed that high African-American mortality rates were caused by an ignorance of hygiene, but Cole argued that actually, it was because white doctors were unwilling to take proper medical records of their black patients. She lived in a time when those of her gender and race were denied privileges at existing institutions, so people like Cole became trailblazers, creating their own institutions to help the segregated and underprivileged. But although Cole practiced medicine for over fifty years, few records survive of her to celebrate her, and no images remain.