The Struggle


As women sought medical education in the mid-19th century, few medical schools were open to them, clinical educational opportunities were few, and career options were limited. Professional acceptance came slowly, in fits and starts, but incrementally the medical educational and professional landscape changed.

Geneva Medical College, circa 1848.

What is seen as probably the first major barrier broken was Elizabeth Blackwell’s acceptance into Geneva Medical College in 1847. Martha Tracy, a graduate and dean of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, gave a speech about the journey of women in medicine to the College Women’s Club in New Brunswick, New Jersey on March 7, 1934.  Dean Tracy recounts Elizabeth Blackwell’s story among others.

The most famous hazing incident in women’s medical education was perpetrated against one of AMWA’s founders, Mary Elizabeth Bates. In 1881, she became the first woman intern at Cook County Hospital and the target of a midnight raid found her in the operating room but still in bed.

Martha Tracy, AMWA’s fourth president and Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania’s highly distinguished and longest-serving dean, detailed many of the struggles women faced taking their place in the medical field.

Segment of article entitled "Opportunities for Medical Women Interns" written by Bertha Van Hoosen, M.D. for the Medical Woman's Journal, December 1926.

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