Dr. Sarah Read Dolley

Sarah Read Adamson was born in 1829 and became the third woman in America to earn an M.D. degree. Her family were Quakers living in Schuykill Meeting, Chester County, Pennsylvania. She was educated at The Friends’ School in Philadelphia. Sarah Adamson became interested in medicine when her teacher, Graceanna Lewis, gave her a physiology book to study at home. Her uncle, Hiram Corson, was a physician, and she had also read an anatomical book from his library. He agreed to tutor her, and took her on as an apprentice.

This experience prepared her to study at the newly-opened Central Medical College in Rochester, New York, where she graduated from in 1851.

Though a few women had broken through barriers to receive a medical education, no woman had ever completed a hospital internship. Dr. Adamson’s uncle again supported her, sponsoring her application for an internship at Blockley Hospital in Philadelphia. She became the first woman intern in America.

In 1852, she married Dr. Lester Clinton Dolley, a professor of anatomy and surgery at Central Medical College. Together they traveled to Europe to gain further medical training, attending clinics in Paris, Prague, and Vienna. Upon their return, they set up a medical practice in Rochester, where they worked together until his death in 1872. For the next year, Dr. Sarah Dolley served as Professor of Obstetrics at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, but soon returned to Rochester to re-establish her practice.

Women were still barred from working in most hospitals. Knowing how critical the knowledge and experience she had gained through her internship was, Dr. Dolley worked to open more hospital positions to women.

In 1887, she helped a group of women open their own dispensary, an outpatient clinic for the working poor. She also helped found one of the first general women’s medical societies: The Practitioners’ Society of Rochester, which later became the Blackwell Society. On her seventy-eighth birthday, Dr. Sarah Adamson Dolley led the Blackwell Society in launching the Women’s Medical Society of the State of New York. She was given the honor of being its first president.