Saturday, October 21, 2006

Victorian Women in Medicine

The medical profession of the 19th century didn't readily accept women into their ranks. The first school for nurses wasn't even established until after the Civil War.
Although women physicians were scarce in this era, they were not unheard of. Elizabeth Blackwell, born in 1821, was the first American woman to gain entrance to medical school. She was only admitted when her fellow classmates jokingly voted to accept her.
After her admittance, other women followed, including her sister, Emily, Maria Zakrzewska, Mary Putnam Jacobi and Ann Preston. Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania opened in 1850. This and other institutions of the time, including New York Medical College and Hospital for Women, devoted themselves to the education of women in the medical field.
It wasn't an easy road for women who sought to become doctors. In 1874, Edward H. Clarke wrote that women who earned an advanced education would develop "monstrous brains and puny bodies . . . [and] abnormally weak digestion."
In 1891, Mary Putman Jacobi wrote, "It is perfectly evident from the records, that the opposition to women physicians has rarely been based upon any sincere conviction that women could not be instructed in medicine, but upon an intense dislike to the idea that they should be so capable."
Women of the Victorian era had to work long and hard to be the very best in their class to overcome prejudices and establish their place in the world of medicine.

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