‘There is No Such Thing as Bad Publicity’ – Controversies at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania

 Education and outreach, From the collections  Comments Off on ‘There is No Such Thing as Bad Publicity’ – Controversies at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania
Dec 052019
 

This blog post was originally posted on In Her Own Right: A Century of Women’s Activism, 1820-1920, a Pennsylvania Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) collaborative digitization and aggregation project showcasing Philadelphia-area collections highlighting women’s struggle to assert their rights throughout the century prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment.

 

From 1867-1972, the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP) compiled newspaper clippings scrapbooks, which covered topics relevant to the College, its Hospital (established in 1904), and women in medicine. The Drexel College of Medicine Legacy Center holds 27 of these scrapbook volumes; the first 8 volumes (1867-1920) were digitized as part of a Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) for the In Her Own Right project. These scrapbooks uniquely capture the conflicting opinions on women in the medical profession. 

During the 19th century, when rapid social change and experimentation swept through American society, WMCP (initially Female Medical College of Pennsylvania) opened in 1850 as the first degree-granting medical school for women in the world (yes, that’s right, the world!). Because of this “first,” WMCP often attracted national attention. 

Two scrapbook volumes available on the In Her Own Right website contain clippings focused on two infamous Philadelphia events, events that brought national attention to WMCP and forced the public to consider women’s “place” in medicine yet again. 

The first event occurred on November 6, 1869, when a group of 20-30 female WMCP students went to the Pennsylvania Hospital amphitheater to attend a clinical lecture, joining several hundred male medical students. Their attendance drew a strong response from the male students, including yells, cat-calls, epithets, mock applause, throwing of paper and tin foil, and even spitting tobacco onto the female students’ dresses. This event came to be known among students, faculty, and alumnae of WMCP as “The Jeering Episode.”

“…The students of the male colleges, knowing that the ladies would be present, turned out several hundred strong, with the design of expressing their disapproval of the action of the managers of the hospital, particularly, and of admission of women to the medical profession generally. Ranging themselves in line, these gallant gentlemen assailed the young ladies as they passed, with insolent and offensive language, and then followed them into the street, where the whole gang, with the fluency of long practice, joined in insulting these helpless, unprotected women. It was a blackguard action which deprived every man in that crowd of any claim to the title of a gentleman.”

Widely covered in newspapers, “The Jeering Episode” and the ensuing debate about women medical students reflected public opinion at the time (for the women, against the women, or neutral), preserving all sides of the story through media reports. This incident would become a turning point for the College, its students, and the general public, shifting popular opinion to favor women becoming physicians and creating the environment for future generations of women to study medicine.

The second infamous event occurred on June 2, 1915. Dr. Richard Clarke Cabot, professor of medicine at Harvard University, gave the 66th WMCP commencement address.  Instead of congratulating the 30 graduates on their success, Dr. Cabot “started out with the blunt assertion that the average woman is not fitted to become a successful general practitioner or laboratory worker, and then advised the thirty brand-new women physicians to avoid those branches of profession and devote their activities to social service. He said the competition and strenuous character of the work, not to mention the existing prejudice against female physicians, made most women “disappointed or dissatisfied” after they began to practice” (“Women Doctors Not Happy, Orator Tells 30 Getting Diplomas” Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania clippings scrapbook: Volume 5, page 411).

Cabot’s commencement speech outraged WMCP faculty, students, and medical professions across the country. At this point (75 years after the founding of WMCP), there were many women physicians practicing medicine in the U.S. and abroad who took offense to Cabot’s assertion that women physicians are “disappointed.” Like the 1869 “Jeering Episode,” there is a great record of the outcry over his speech, as reflected by the press reports and editorials in the scrapbook.

Both events stirred the “hornets’ nest,” highlighting the opinions of medical professionals, as well as those in favor of and opposed to women in medicine (and those neutral to the idea) through the press. These two sensational events ran in Pennsylvania newspapers and in papers across the nation, including New York, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., and Illinois. 

These incidents emphasized the struggles of women in medicine and their determination for equal education and employment despite the popular beliefs that 1) it was improper for women to study medical subjects and anatomy alongside men, 2) women physicians should only treat women and children and 3) women physicians are better suited for social medicine, not scientific or practical.

While the expression “there is no such thing as bad publicity” is personified within these scrapbooks, Dr. Gertrude Walker’s words speak to how controversial events like these can create a positive outcome:

“Dr. Cabot’s speech aroused considerable resentment at first. Later came a calmer consideration of his views. The amount of refutation of his conclusion that women physicians were disappointed that appeared in the press aroused curiosity. As a result, more women are entering the profession than ever before.”

 “Women Physicians Deny They Are “Disappointed”” Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania clippings scrapbook: Volume 5, page 490-491

Suffrage Reference Guide

 Reference guide  Comments Off on Suffrage Reference Guide
Apr 152020
 
A guide to collection materials on women in medicine and their involvement in the suffrage movement and other forms of women’s activism.

 

Responsibility rests upon women at the present time as it never rested upon them before, to choose and then, having chosen, to act

Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, WMCP Commencement Speech, 1918


Table of Contents

  1. Background
  2. Specific Incidents
  3. Publications and Theses
  4. Individuals and Collections
  5. Women in Medicine: A Bibliography of the Literature on Women Physicians

 

This resource guide describes materials regarding women in medicine and their involvement in the suffrage movement and other forms of women’s activism. The collections particularly reflect activity at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP) which opened its doors as the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1850.  The college was the first degree-granting medical school for women in the country. The first class of graduates included Drs. Hannah E. Longshore and Ann Preston, two powerhouse physicians that broke many barriers to practice medicine and change public opinions towards women. The Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania didn’t officially endorse universal suffrage until 1915 but faculty such as Dr. Clara Marshall supported suffrage for women. These narratives and more can be found in the pages of the collections held at the Legacy Center. 

The collections’ focal point is women in medicine, however many women believed that the fight for the right to vote and the right to study and practice medicine were the same fight, and both movements benefited from the successes of the other.

Edith Flower Wheeler, WMCP 1897 with others in 1918

The resources described range from the early 1850s until late 1970s and include published sources as well as diaries, a memoir, theses, lectures and lecture notes, and correspondence. Some sources have been digitized and are linked in the guide and others are only available on-site at the Legacy Center.

 

 

SPECIFIC INCIDENTS 

NAWSA’s Dr. Anna Howard Shaw Memorial Department of Preventive Medicine at the Woman’s College of Pennsylvania. 1919-1920

Dr. Anna Howard Shaw had three goals that she wanted to achieve in her lifetime: suffrage for women; prohibition; and science being taught as a way of prevention. She dedicated many years of her life to her causes and before her death, in 1918, she saw two of them come to fruition, suffrage and prohibition. To honor her memory, the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania planned to start a Department of Preventive Medicine to continue her legacy. Another women’s college in the area, Bryn Mawr College, also wanted to honor Dr. Shaw’s memory with a Political Science Department and the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) originally planned to only offer the funds to one of the schools. When NAWSA held an event in February of 1920 so speakers from both colleges could stake their case for their plans for a memorial, speakers on both sides made a compelling case. It was decided that both WMCP and Bryn Mawr would receive $30,000 for their respective departments. The narrative of this event spans multiple sources. 

Dr. Anna Howard Shaw at a woman's march

Dr. Anna Howard Shaw

Clippings 1919-1923
Woman’s Medical College Bulletin
Woman’s Medical Journal 
The Iatrian Suffrage Debate

Beginning in December 1911 to March 1912, a series of opinion pieces about suffrage were published in the Iatrian, the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania’s student journal.  The medical students debated the issue of whether suffrage would benefit them. 

The Iatrian – The Woman’s Medical College’s monthly student publication
Women physicians, suffrage, and WWI

When the United States officially entered the WWI conflict in 1917, the US Government sent many male physicians overseas to aid the wounded as ranking officers. Despite female physicians also interested in lending their talents to the cause, the government would not allow them to serve.

Dr. Caroline Purnell’s article discusses the tension between organizations as women looked for ways to serve. Women working under the auspices of the National Suffrage Association traveled around the United States to raise money to send women to Europe to aid in the war. The work these groups did became known as the “Over Seas Hospitals,” promising women physicians salaries and ranks in the French Army. Purnell argues their promises to be unrealistic and unfounded, and instead, the women physicians should support the work of the American Women’s Hospitals (AWH) which sent women doctors throughout Europe to aid people in the war zones recover from the destructive war. Purnell believed deeply in suffrage but believed that the National Suffrage Association was deceiving its recruits. Purnell describes the formation of the AWH, its relationship to the American Women’s Medical Association, and its distinction from the National Suffrage Association’s “Over Seas Hospitals.”

Dr. Mary Buchanan’s President’s Address to the Alumnae Association of the WMC likens the women’s opportunity to gain suffrage to their opportunities to support the war effort. Buchanan describes women physicians efforts to serve despite the government limitations on commissioning women, including the fact that the Woman’s Suffrage Assocation paid the salaries of women physicians in France.

Transactions of the Alumnae Board of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania 

PUBLICATIONS AND THESES

The Iatrian

Formerly known as the Esculapian, the Iatrian was the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania’s monthly student periodical. As the suffrage movement was getting more traction in the political sphere in America, the medical students began to talk more about the topic, including what appeared in the Iatrian as a form of public discussion from the years of 1910 until 1913.

Publication Dates
Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania Clipping Scrapbooks

April 25, 1915 Philadelphia Suffrage Parade

The Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania compiled newspaper and journal clippings from around the nation that mentioned the college and anyone associated with the college in scrapbooks. This specific range of clippings is about women’s rights and the women of the college participated in the movement and their opinions dating from 1915 until 1920. The range includes clippings from volumes 5 and 8 of the clippings scrapbooks. 

Clippings
Bulletin of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania

The quarterly publication of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. The Bulletins include updates on the college community including faculty, alumni and students. The Bulletins listed below include pieces that are related to suffrage and women’s rights from 1915-1930.

Woman’s Medical Journal

The Woman’s Medical Journal is a monthly publication recording the work of women in medicine around the world. The journals listed include pieces related to the aftermath of women receiving the vote, ranging from 1920-1923.

Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania Theses

Theses of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania on the topic of the right of women to practice medicine and why women are a necessary part of the development of the profession in general. As more women began to enter into medical colleges, the question of why women should practice medicine was asked more widely and several students addressed the issue in their theses. Theses from 1851 until 1871

INDIVIDUALS AND COLLECTIONS 

The individuals named in this section authored or are featured in materials relating to women in medicine (or women medical adjacent) and women’s activism, be it suffrage or other movements. These materials  may not be the only representation of women’s activism in the collections, instead the information presented should be a guide or starting point.

  • Rachel L. Bodley
  • Edith Flower Wheeler, WMCP 1897, 
  • Anna M. Fullerton, WMCP, 1882
    • Anna M. Fullerton Dairies (1915-1933, 5 Vols),
      • Dr. Anna Fullerton was interested in the suffrage movement in England and believed that it was fascinating. She also recounts the memories of finding out about the 19th amendment being passed and someone contacting the last living person that attended the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. 

  • Sarah Hibbard, WMCP 1870
    • Lecture Notes, Sarah Hibbard, approx. 1870s, Sarah A. Hibbard M.D. papers, 2nd booklet

  • Clara Marshall, WMCP 1875

Mary Putnam Jacobi, WMCP 1864. She was a leader in the US suffrage movement.

Women Doctors in America based on Abrams’s research of the Class of 1987 from WMCP

  • Ruth Abram
    • Ruth Abram authored “Send Us A Lady Physician” Women Doctors in America 1835-1920. Her collection of research materials includes comprehensive research on the WMCP class of 1879.
      • Obituary: Dr. Battershall, Pioneer, Passes On–a252_b10f32_9.1ph15
      • Photo: Suffrage Parade 1915–a252_b10f57_11.6ph5
      • A Fair Proposition from the Chicago “Lever”
      • Mrs. Kemp’s Eightieth Birthday
      • Agnes Nininger Sabders Kemp

  • History of the College, Thomas Longshore, approx. 1890s, Martha Tracy papers, pg. 11
    • The History of the College was written by Thomas E. Longshore, brother of Dr. Joseph Longshore, co-founder of the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1850. Dr. Longshore led the school in educating women physicians and he hired doctors who were willing to teach them but one particular, Dr. David J. Johnson, became jealous of Longshore’s popularity and began attacking him for his progressive beliefs such as Woman’s Rights, temperance and mesmerism (hypnotist). 
  • Longshore family papers
    • Hannah E. Longshore, WMCP 1852
      • Pioneer in the Cause for Women Hannah E. Longshore MD
        • To commemorate the life of the late Dr. Hannah E. Longshore, Pennsylvania’s first practicing woman physician and the second in the country, the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania started the Hannah E. Longshore Department of Therapeutics. A pamphlet tells Dr. Longshore’s story of breaking the barriers of the typical woman’s sphere. 
    • Lucretia L. Blankenburg 
      • Lucretia L. Blankenburg was the daughter of Dr. Hannah E. Longshore and Thomas Longshore, the niece of Dr. Joseph Longshore that followed in her family’s legacy and promoted the advancement of women. dedicated her life to the equality of women and men after watching her mother struggle with the discrimination of being a female physician. She died in 1937 from pneumonia.
        • Lucretia Blankenburg address for winning award, 1933 2000.12.12-16/a2000.12_b01f11
          • In 1933, Blankenberg received an honorary degree from Temple University. In her acceptance speech she spoke about life growing up and committing to Woman’s Rights. She mentions Philadelphia institutions such as Temple University and Drexel University.
      • Obituary: Mrs. Lucretia Blankenburg dies, aged 91
        • Lucretia Blankenburg died from pneumonia in 1937. Her obituary details her life and how she dedicated her life to the equality of women and men after watching her mother struggle with the discrimination of being a female physician.

Women in Medicine: A Bibliography of the Literature on Women Physicians by Sandra L. Chaff

This bibliography is a compiled list of over 4000 references to books, journal articles, and dissertations dating from 1750-1975. Available online, the bibliography has a subject index that includes Women’s Suffrage and Women’s Rights, as well as author and personal name indexes. Indexes lead to numbers that correspond to article numbers. Some titles are in the Legacy Center collections.

Back to the top 

Table of Contents

  1. Background/Purpose
  2. Specific Incidents
  3. Publications and Theses
  4. Individuals and Collections
  5. Women in Medicine: A Bibliography of the Literature on Women Physicians