Dr. Ann Preston

In 1869, Dr. Ann Preston, the first woman Dean of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, campaigned for the right for her students to attend lectures at all-male institutions. When they were first granted admittance, women medical students attending a clinic were greeted by the male students with hisses and paper wads. Dr. Preston refused to be deterred, and successfully argued for the fair treatment and equal skill of her students. She was born a Quaker in 1813, and attended Quaker schools in Pennsylvania. From an early age, she campaigned for social reform. She wrote petitions and lectures for the Clarkson Anti-Slavery Society and joined the temperance movement. Wanting to educate women about their own bodies, she began teaching physiology and hygiene to all-female classes. In 1847, Ann Preston applied to four medical colleges in Philadelphia. But her applications, like those from all other women, were rejected. To provide opportunities for women to study medicine, a group of Quakers founded the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Ann Preston enrolled in the first class. She graduated in 1851, at the age of 38. She stayed on at the school, and in two years was appointed professor of physiology and hygiene. Public and professional attitudes toward women physicians remained negative, for the most part. Eight years after the medical school was established, the Philadelphia Medical Society spoke out against it, effectively barring women students from educational clinics and medical societies in the city. Undeterred, Dr. Ann Preston organized a board of wealthy supporters to fund and run a woman’s hospital, where her students could gain clinical experience. The hospital opened in 1861. Two years later, Dr. Preston established a School of Nursing. In 1865, Dr. Ann Preston became the first woman Dean of the Woman’s Medical College. Committed to expanding her students’ educational opportunities, Dr. Preston negotiated and won the right for them to attend general clinics at the Blockley Hospital in Philadelphia. In 1869, she made a similar arrangement with the Pennsylvania Hospital. There, the women endured harassment from the male students. As one student later recalled, “We were allowed to enter by way of the back stairs, and were greeted by the male students with hisses and paper wads, and frequently during the clinic were treated to more of the same... The Professor of Surgery came in and bowed to the men only...” Dr. Ann Preston publicly criticized the response of the men and the attitudes behind it, arguing that women students could easily keep up with the men but that the men refused to welcome their equally capable women colleagues. Thanks to Dr. Preston and her students, women studying alongside men gradually became a more frequent sight in the medical clinics and colleges of the late 1800s.