Ten Things About " Lady Doctors " You Didn't Know You Should Know; Women's History Month

JPK Huson 1863

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#1
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From NYPL. Boston's new college for women was different- it was a medical school. Opening in 1848 , New England Female Medical College was joined by Philadelphia's in 1850, Johns Hopkins, Vassar, and school after school graduated these women until today, when the scales are around equal. It doesn't matter who practices, it'd be how.

" Go to the lonely chamber of affliction;
Go to the couch of suffering and death;
And to the mourner waft a benedicition;
That Heaven breathes down with lips of angel breath;
Bear with the pride the doubt thy message scorning;
Bear with the blind, the God-light who despise;
For patent sufferance heralds on the morning;
And thine own faith shall make thy sisters wise. "


Jan 14th, 1865 by ' One Who Loves Her Sex ', New York, New York.

Thread is by no means comprehensive and it would be flatly impossible to do justice to the topic anyway. An over-view is all that can be achieved. Women doctors did indeed practice during the war and a few women went on from their experiences as ACW nurses to enter medical school. Women in medicine was a field intricately linked to ' progressive ' thought- abolitionism, women's rights, women's votes, health care specifically for women, heck the women's dress reform movement were active, vital ingredients inside the movement to graduate what were called " lady doctors "

1. In 1865 the famous Dr. Mary Walker was just wrapping up her war. The same year Dr. John Barry, a much celebrated, feted, British practitioner died. He’d practiced medicine for 46 years before succumbing to the disease rampant in the filthy London slums inhabited by many of his patients. During Barry’s career he’d performed an emergency C- section ( with no clue how it was performed, two lives on the line- and both lived ), clashed with Florence Nightingale over treatment of wounded, was appointed to government positions and was aggressive about women’s health care. When his black servant became a long term companion Dr. Barry was suspected of being gay. And he was the daughter of an Irish green grocer. Her name was Margaret Bulkley.

2. Elizabeth Blackwell was accepted to Geneva Medical College by accident. Her would be peer, Harriet Hunt had just had her first rejection by Harvard. In mockery over Blackwell's application it was suggested by the faculty her admittance be put to a student vote. The unanimous vote got her in- and is thought to have been a joke on the part of students, from their view point gone horribly wrong. That joke gained admittance for the other Dr. Blackwell, Elizabeth’s sister Emily. ( so a twofer in the list )Dr. Maria Zakrzewska joined the sisters in establishing clinics for the poor in NYC.

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Image is post war but would have been shocking to most. Girls and bodies and what was under there? Unthinkable- good thing for all of us someone made it thinkable.

3. The first female medical school in the United State opened in 1848, in Boston, Mass. Boston Female Medical College, later changed to the New England Female Medical College. The first class of 12 all graduated and went on to practice medicine.

4. The first female college’s first graduating class included in that famous class a black doctor. Dr. Rebecca Lee.

5. Medicine was practiced nearly solely by women until weirdly, the Renaissance. During this alleged awakening from the supposed ignorance of The Middles Ages women were increasingly left behind. Traditional medicine as practiced by midwives became illegal as men increased their hold over women’s lives. Women healers became known more as witches and conjourers and probably was the genesis of the ‘ crazy ‘ mythology associated with we girls.

6. One of the primary reasons women were rejected as doctors? It was conjectured the death rate among female patients of ‘ lady doctors ‘ would skyrocket. Why? Because women were so mean to each other, they would deliberately kill them. ( no, really ) There was also bewilderment- how on earth was a nice girl to find a husband in the middle of all those brains?

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1864

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Rest of article continues along the same lines- there's a bit where no one would find comfort in a bony, lady doctor's hand.

7. By 1900 the percentage of women in medicine declined ( again, weirdly ). 100 years after Dr.’s Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, Dr. Rebecca Lee, Dr. Harriet Austin, graduated only 5% of all doctors were women.

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This is she- bullied beyond even what the law would tolerate- and as a doc, here she is. That would be the Dress Reform Movement as practiced by an awful lot of progressives. They had a point- how on earth to practice medicine encumbered by dozens of yards of cloth? A previous Dress Reform Movement was a little different, attempting to retain some of the more frivolous aspects of current fashion.
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8. We owed the existence of another famous female medical school, Philadelphia’s, to a small group of Quakers whose vision of women’s futures included their service in medicine on equal terms with men. Not enough emphasis is placed on how stringently Quakers mandated women and men were equals.

9. By 1880 there were 2432 female doctors in America, and by 1900 there were 7387, with the first medical society for women opening in CA, in 1853 eastern states followed almost immediately

10. Ohio native Dr. Myra King Merrick ( ahem, in the tree... ) treated wounded ACW soldiers, something Dr. Mary Walker was frequently forbidden. Dr. Mary insisted on treating anyone she could get her hands on, civilians, women in prison and finally, wounded.

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From Pennsylvania, 1864. Hadn't run into Miss Dr. Young previously. You don't see many newspaper going out of their way to point out excellence in a ' Lady Doctor '.

To all of them, from New England Female Medical College to The Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to Vassar, John Hopkins and schools who graduated women doctors both pre and post war, well done. Had a shot at compiling a list of early ' lady doctors ' and it's consistently incomplete plus each one a thread by herself. The struggle continued- my great grandmother's twin sister, born in 1863 right across the street from our nation's Capitol Dome became a doctor, attending Philadelphia's school. She was bullied, attacked, vilified and finally, swindled. Dr. Martha Huson continued practicing until her death anyway.

Women's History Month is a little crowded. Thankfully.
 
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AnnaLee

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Great post. These women are my heroes. The work place has become better in the last 30 or so years but there is a long way to go. Most of the women doctors I worked with over my nursing career were smart, great listeners (which a lot of the male docs were not), and treated nurses and patients with respect. These heroic women paved the way for the women physicians that followed them.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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Great list of facts, @JPK Huson 1863 , thanks for providing it for us.

I did attempt a list of early women doctors and had to quit. We had quite a few once the barriers shattered. Dr. Mary Walker was the most visible- well, she became controversial so of course was visible. We seem to discuss her mostly for the MoH controversy and it's a huge shame. A woman crossing enemy lines to aid civilians and spending time as a captured prisoner in Castle Thunder because of it is the real story. There must be other women whose work with wounded we're missing entirely!
 

unionblue

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I did attempt a list of early women doctors and had to quit. We had quite a few once the barriers shattered. Dr. Mary Walker was the most visible- well, she became controversial so of course was visible. We seem to discuss her mostly for the MoH controversy and it's a huge shame. A woman crossing enemy lines to aid civilians and spending time as a captured prisoner in Castle Thunder because of it is the real story. There must be other women whose work with wounded we're missing entirely!
@JPK Huson 1863 ,

I am sure there are a LOT of other women we're missing! I have been on this forum since around 1992 and have been amazed at the amount of history and historical figures I DON'T know! There is always something new to learn, some new facts to discover. With folks like you making the effort, it's always a pleasure to discover more.

Thanks again for digging out these facts for me and everyone else here to learn and enjoy.

Sincerely,
Your Friend, Unionblue
 



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