Dr. Marie E. Zakrewska

In 1862, Dr. Marie Zakrzewska opened her own hospital, The New England Hospital for Women and Children. It was the first hospital in Boston, and only the second in America to be run by women physicians. Dr. Zakrzewska had been part of the first generation of women physicians in America. Barred from working in existing hospitals and excluded from teaching jobs at medical schools, some of these women went on to found dispensaries, hospitals, and schools to train women students and employ women physicians. Marie Zakrzewska was born in Berlin, the daughter of a midwife. As a young woman, she accompanied her mother on her rounds. She trained at the Royal Charité Hospital, and in 1852 become a midwife. When her promotion to Head Midwife not long after she had finished her training was met with disapproval from some of the faculty, she left to study medicine in the United States. Although opportunities in America were also limited, Marie Zakrzewska was aided by Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to graduate from medical school in America. With Dr. Blackwell’s help, she enrolled at Cleveland Western Reserve College, traditionally, an all-male medical school. Marie Zakrzewska was one of only six women admitted to the school in the 1850s. She graduated with her M.D. in 1856. Dr. Blackwell and her sister Emily became an inspiration to Dr. Zakrzewska by planning to found a small hospital where women physicians could work and learn. Dr. Zakrzewska joined their effort, and the New York Infirmary for Women and Children opened in 1857. She served as resident physician at the hospital for two years. She moved to Boston to accept the position of Professor of Obstetrics at the New England Female Medical College. Her students, encountering the same obstacles as other women physicians, found it difficult to get work after graduation. Dr. Zakrzewska also disagreed with the founder of the New England Female Medical College over the school’s curriculum. She had proposed courses in dissection and microscopy to enhance the training of students and keep up with the developing field of scientific medicine. But the director intended to limit women physicians to a lower educational level. Three years later, she resigned, to open her own hospital. The New England Hospital for Women and Children flourished under Dr. Zakrzewska’s direction. There, women physicians who were excluded from the majority of hospitals, could acquire clinical experience. She believed that women physicians must have the same training and base of scientific knowledge as their male counterparts to achieve the same levels of research and standards of practice.