‘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

“I answer to myself”: Dr. Florence Haseltine and her path to women’s health advocacy

 From the collections  Comments Off on “I answer to myself”: Dr. Florence Haseltine and her path to women’s health advocacy
Nov 142019

Florence Haseltine’s papers are now available to researchers. We encourage you to explore the full description and inventory. [LINK]

Dr. Florence Haseltine knew from a very young age that she was destined for great things.  Florence Pat Haseltine was born in 1942 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and grew up near the Naval Weapons Station in China Lake, California. She is the eldest child of William and Jean E. Haseltine and her father was a physicist for the military. Her experience growing up on a military base and within a neighborhood full of scientific households shaped her determination and set the course for her career as a biophysicist, reproductive endocrinologist, journal editor, novelist, inventor, and advocate for women’s health.

“I’m going to go to MIT and get a Ph.D. in physics. I said that at six, and that’s what I did.”

After graduating from High School, Dr. Haseltine attended college at the University of California at Berkeley, where she studied physics, then biophysics. Dr. Haseltine was one of only a few women in this academic major in a time when most physics majors were men. True to her six-year-old proclamations, Dr. Haseltine graduated from University of California at Berkeley in 1964 and was accepted in the Biophysics graduate program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT].

In defiance of her father’s and first husband’s objections, Dr. Haseltine resolved to fulfill yet another childhood dream: “I decided I was going to be a research doctor…I decided I was going to be a human geneticist when I was about 18, I realized that being a doctor was probably the best thing, that if I had a good science background, I would be, ‘unstoppable.’” After finishing at MIT, she applied to medical school and was accepted at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

After successfully completed her internship at the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia and her residency at the Boston Hospital for Women (now Brigham and Women’s Hospital) in 1976, Dr. Haseltine accepted a fellowship position at Yale University from 1976-1978. She later served as an assistant professor, then associate professor, in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Pediatrics at Yale University.

During her fellowship, Dr. Haseltine worked within Dr. Frank Ruddle’s lab where she learned to fuse mouse embryos and create mosaic mice. This work provided Dr. Haseltine with experience handling embryos and charted the course for her further research on in vitro fertilization. The Yale Fertility Center was one of the first IVF clinics in the United States and in 1983 it was the fifth lab in the nation to have an IVF baby.

Despite her qualifications and research involvement, Dr. Haseltine did not obtain tenure at Yale University. Dr. Haseltine characterized her experiences applying for jobs in the 1980s and 1990s as paving the way for other women: “Lot of things that were happening because I was female. I mean, during the period of the late 80s early 90s, when they wanted to have women interviewed for everything, I was a token on many many job interviews. And finally, that sort of stopped in the mid-90s… and you know you’re a token and all kinds of things show it, but you figure you might as well go through with it because maybe it will help people in the future… Since I know what women did ahead of me influenced what I could do, you can only hope that what you did helped some of them.”

From 1985 to 2012, Dr. Haseltine served as the Director of the Center for Population Research at the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health [NIH]. The health of women and their advancement professionally are central issues for Dr. Haseltine: “When I got to there [NIH], OB/GYN just was not considered a real field.” During her time at the NIH she worked with government lobbyist to help increase funding for women’s health research at the national level. In addition to working towards increased funding for women’s health research, Dr. Haseltine also spent her time at the NIH advocating for the increased participation of women in clinical trials. The direct result of Dr. Haseltine’s efforts was the creation of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the NIH in 1990.

“I have bought into the American idea that things should be equitable and it’s a very powerful idea in this country. It’s not true in other countries… Later in life, getting women in clinical trials was based on an equitable argument.”

Previous Image
Next Image

info heading

info content

Further Resources

Legacy Center Materials:

Related materials located at an outside repository include:

The processing of the archival material at Drexel University Legacy Center was made possible by Dr. Florence Haseltine, M.D., Ph. D., Haseltine Systems, Inc., and the Conway-Welch Family Foundation. The Legacy Center would like to thank Dr. Haseltine for her generous support and commitment to preserving the history of women in medicine.

In addition, and in stride with Dr. Haseltine’s use of technology throughout her career, the Florence Haseltine papers include a variety of born digital materials. Project Archivist Sarah Oswald has taken this opportunity to research best practices, establish workflows, and explore the software necessary for launching the Legacy Center’s management of electronic records.