The first women to complete medical training and launch careers confronted daunting professional and social restrictions. To establish their rightful place as physicians and to expand opportunities for other women in medicine, they established their own hospitals, schools, and professional societies. They excelled in their chosen fields of medical practice and scientific research-often while campaigning for political change and managing schools and hospitals.
By succeeding in work considered "unsuitable" for women, these leaders overturned prevailing assumptions about the supposedly lesser intellectual abilities of women and the traditional responsibilities of wives and mothers.
When she graduated from New York's Geneva Medical College, in 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in America to earn the M.D. degree. She supported medical education for women and helped many other women's careers. By establishing the New York Infirmary in 1857, she offered a practical solution to one of the problems facing women who were rejected from internships elsewhere but determined to expand their skills as physicians. She also published several important books on the issue of women in medicine, including Medicine as a Profession For Women in 1860 and Address on the Medical Education of Women in 1864. READ MORE
Mary Putnam Jacobi was an esteemed medical practitioner and teacher, a harsh critic of the exclusion of women from the professions, and a social reformer dedicated to the expansion of educational opportunities for women. She was also a well-respected scientist, supporting her arguments for the rights of women with the scientific proofs of her time. READ MORE
Emily Dunning Barringer harnessed the benefits of a good education and gained the mentorship of a leading woman physician of her era, Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi, to overcome barriers in her own career and to make it possible for other women physicians to serve their country during World War II. After first being denied an appointment at New York's Gouverneur Hospital, she was later allowed to take up the position and became the hospital's first woman medical resident and ambulance physician. During World War II, Barringer lobbied Congress to allow women physicians to serve as commissioned officers in the Army Medical Reserve Corps, and in 1943 the passing of the Sparkman Act granted women the right to receive commissions in the army, navy, and Public Health Service. READ MORE
In 1862, Marie Zakrzewska, M.D., opened doors to women physicians who were excluded from clinical training opportunities at male-run hospitals, by establishing the first hospital in Boston—and the second hospital in America—run by women, the New England Hospital for Women and Children. READ MORE
As the first woman to be made dean of the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP), Ann Preston campaigned for her students to be admitted to clinical lectures at the Philadelphia Hospital, and the Pennsylvania Hospital. Despite the hostility of the all-male student groups, she was determined to negotiate the best educational opportunities for the students of WMCP. READ MORE
Sarah Adamson Dolley of Rochester, New York, was the first woman physician to complete a hospital internship. She was a founder of one of the first general women's medical societies, the Practitioners' Society of Rochester, New York, and the Provident Dispensary for Women and Children (an outpatient clinic for the working poor) established by the society. She was also the first president of the Women's Medical Society of New York State. READ MORE
Dr. Mary Dixon Jones became a world-renowned surgeon for her treatment of diseases of the female reproductive system, in a time when few women physicians were able to build a career in the specialty. She is credited as the first person in America to propose and perform a full hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) for the treatment of uterine myoma (a tumor of muscle tissue). She trained with Mary Putnam Jacobi in New York, and is considered one of the leading women scientists of the late nineteenth century. READ MORE