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Celebrating National Doctors' Day and Women in the History of Medicine

by Karen Hanus, MLIS, AHIP on 2024-03-25T03:10:00-05:00 in Clinical Practice, Patient Education, Research | 0 Comments

March 30th is National Doctors’ Day! Take a moment this week to thank a doctor for their compassion and heroic efforts in the quality care of patients, for their innovative research leading to new discoveries, and/or for their outstanding education of the next generation of our workforce. The Library staff appreciate our doctors!

Women’s History Month, also observed in March, provides an opportunity to reflect on how women doctors have contributed to these important missions in healthcare and to commemorate the efforts of women trailblazers in breaking barriers and paving the way for future generations of female medical professionals. The stories of three amazing women you may not have even heard about before remind us of the extra challenges our foremothers faced in their professional endeavors.

Harriot Kezia Hunt was the first woman to establish a successful medical practice in the United States; she began caring for patients in Boston in 1835. She was at first denied entrance to Harvard University’s Medical School because her entrance was considered “inexpedient.” She was later admitted but the male students discovered her admittance and protested “against her appearing in places where her presence is calculated to destroy our respect for the modesty and delicacy of her sex.” In 1853, the Female Medical College of Philadelphia granted her an honorary degree in recognition of her years in the profession. Despite having no formal degree, many contemporaries called her "Dr. Harriot K. Hunt" and called her the "first woman physician in the country."

Mary Putnam Jacobi, a researcher, was the first woman to become a member of the Academy of Medicine in 1872. In 1876, Dr. Jacobi's essay, "The Question of Rest for Women during Menstruation," won the Boylston Prize at Harvard University. In this influential paper she refuted the supposed physical limitations of women and provided scientific evidence to support her statements, including data on pulse rate and other data concerning the stability of a woman's health, strength, and agility throughout her monthly cycle. Her research offered irrefutable proof of the accuracy of her position. Her final essay, "Description of the Early Symptoms of the Meningeal Tumor Compressing the Cerebellum. From Which the Writer Died. Written by Herself” was published in 1905. She died in June 1906.

Alice Hamilton was a trailblazer in education. Dr. Hamilton was a leading expert in the field of occupational health and a pioneer in the field of industrial toxicology. In 1919, Harvard officials considered her the best-qualified person in the country in this area and appointed her as assistant professor in their newly formed Department of Industrial Medicine at Harvard Medical School, making her the first woman appointed to Harvard University faculty in any field. She commented, "yes, I am the first woman on the Harvard faculty—but not the first one who should have been appointed!" Dr. Hamilton faced discrimination as a woman. She was excluded from social activities, could not enter the Harvard Union or attend the Faculty Club, and was not allowed to march in the commencement ceremonies as the male faculty members did. Presently, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's Committee on the Advancement of Women Faculty sponsors the annual Alice Hamilton Award Lecture to recognize a female faculty member for her impact in public health and future promise.

Read about these women doctors and the dramatic changes that have impacted women in medicine in these books available in the Advocate Health - Midwest Library’s electronic collection.

Dr. Harriot Kezia Hunt Book Cover     Mary Putnam Jacobi Book Cover     Alice Hamilton Book Cover     Women and the Practice of Medicine Book Cover

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