New England Female Medical College
New England Female Medical College (NEFMC), originally Boston Female Medical College, was founded in 1848 by Samuel Gregory and was the first school to train women in the field of medicine. It merged with Boston University School of Medicine in 1874.
Prior to 1847 when Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to enroll in a United States medical school when she entered the Geneva Medical College, many women such as Harriot Kezia Hunt had served as family physicians, but women were denied attendance at medical lectures and examinations. Blackwell set a new standard for young women everywhere, helping them gain entrance into the medical world by claiming that women had something unique to offer medicine that men could not.
The Female Education Society opened in Boston in 1848, and was created exclusively for the medical education of women. It was incorporated and officialially recognized by the Massachusetts Legislature on April 30, 1850. The first classes were held in the home of Boylston Medical Society President Dr. Winslow Lewis. The Female Medical Education Society sought to establish a medical school in Boston complete with its own teaching hospital that would teach women midwifery and nursing so they could treat women and children. Although it was a time of gender prejudice, the foundation of the College was accepted by many as it "provided women with a socially sanctioned position in a feminized occupation."On May, 27 1857, by an act of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the name was changed to New England Female Medical College and the school was reorganized.
NEFMC is the oldest medical school in the United States exclusively for women. In 1870 the New England Female Medical College building was dedicated on a lot between East Concord and Stoughton Streets, giving the school its own home after 22 years of existence. After only 26 years of existence, the New England Female Medical College merged with Boston University School of Medicine in 1874.
The main motivation for the school’s foundation was that male physicians should not generally assist in childbirth. Founder Samuel Gregory saw male-midwifery as unnatural and improper and believed that women should be allowed to have a formal medical education in order to become certified midwives and attend to their own sex.
Gregory argued that the U.S. was the only country in the world where women were dependent on men for aid in childbirth and that male midwives caused unnecessary embarrassment to women. He advocated for midwifery to become a feminine occupation exclusively in the hands of women. At the time, there was increasing support for that idea that, by dividing medical labors between the sexes (particularly giving women the role in childbirth), different departments could be more efficient and effective. Gregory argued that midwifery was a simple, mechanical routine that should be seen as fine for women, but beneath many male physicians, and that men should be happy to hand it off to women and be able to dedicate their time to other medical fields where they can employ their full mental capacity.
Additionally, Gregory believed that females would be more likely to avoid using drugs and medical instruments during childbirth, and instead allow for nature to run its course while comforting patients, which he thought would lead to fewer fatalities during childbirth.
Although it was seen as controversial, Gregory drew support for the establishment of the first female medical college with the help of Lemuel Shattuck and Harriet Beecher Stowe, the Female Medical Education Society, which wanted to provide education for women to become widwives, nurses and physicians, and the public belief that women were well adapted for being midwives as a result of their feminine nature, as well as.
The first term of classes began on November 1, 1848 with a class of twelve students from across New England, New York and Ohio enrolled at Boston Female Medical College. In 1856, the college changed its name to the New England Female Medical College.
On November 9, 1859 the Ladies' Medical Academy with a free clinic was established in connection with the school on Summer Street in Boston. The institution's goals were the education of interested women in medical subjects, nursing practices, midwifery, and the training of female physicians. The Ladies' Medical Academy awarded the Doctor of Medicine degree to four women in 1860, and two Diplomas in Midwifery were granted. There were some forty students in all by 1861. The Ladies Medical Academy appears to have been absorbed by New England Female Medical College shortly after its founding.
Throughout its 27 years, over 300 women attended classes and 98 women received doctoral degrees, with less than five students graduating each year, on average. Basic graduation requirements consisted of previous medical study, two years of attendance at NEFMC, a final thesis, and passing a final exam.
The majority of the school’s budget was provided by charitable contributions allowing for many students to be given the opportunity to study there through the Massachusetts State Scholarship Fund. (1) All women applicants with proper preliminary educations able to apply for scholarships to the college. Without a scholarship, starting tuition was $25 per term with room and board costs of $2 per week.
A list of 98 graduates of the school was published in 1905 by Harvey King.
- Dr. Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler graduated from the New England Female Medical College in 1864 and was the first African-American female to earn a medical degree.
- Dr. Mary Harris Thompson graduated in 1863 and went on to establish the Chicago Hospital for Women and Children.
- Dr Esther Jane Hawks graduated in 1857.
From its start in 1848 until the mid-1850s, there were two faculty members whose lesson plans focused mainly on midwifery. In later years, both the curriculum and teaching staff grew, with five to seven faculty members providing a full medical education to students comparable to that of other medical schools of the time.
One of the most notable faculty members was Dr. Maria Zakrzewska who believed that young women should pursue a medical degree because of “an innate interest and talent for practicing medicine as well as the love for the science of it,” not just because of their empathy towards women and children.
Many, including some faculty members, saw NEFMC as inadequate and inferior to medical schools for male students. The most prominent example of this was Gregory’s opinion that scientific instruments offered little to doctors who’s job is to treat a sick individual, while others, including Zakrzewska, saw these instruments as a way to study diseases and view medicine in a scientific context. Zakrzewska left the college because she disagreed with Gregory’s beliefs, and called him and the rest of the faculty “quacks” for being too focused on curing diseases and instead teaching students the scientific foundations of medicine.
NEFMC as well as other female medical schools at the time provided a lacking medical education, and drove many students to continue their education after graduation by obtaining a second degree at a co-educational school.
Additionally, female medical school graduates struggled to be accepted by the medical community. Due in part to gender prejudices at the time, many men and women, especially male physicians, disapproved of female physicians.
In the end, the school’s failure was said to be due to a combination of resistance from society, and the medical world in particular, to women in the field, as well as Gregory’s difficult personality.
- Tuchman, Arleen M. "Situating Gender: Marie E. Zakrzewska and the Place of Science in Women's Medical Education." Isis 95.1 (2004): 34-57.
- Eleventh Annual Report of the New England Female Medical College. (1860)
- "The Medical Education of Women." The British Medical Journal 2.624 (1872): 659. Print.
- Report of the Female Medical Education Society, From November, 1848, to December, 1850; Containing The Charter, Constitution, By-Laws, Names of Officers and Members, Together with Information Respecting the Boston Female Medical School and the Proposed Clinical Hospital, Which Is to Form a Part of the Institution. Boston: Wright & Husty Printers, 1851. pp. 3-16.
- Gardner, Martha N. Midwife, Doctor, or Doctress?: The New England Female Medical College and Women's Place in Nineteenth-Century Medicine and Society. Diss. Brandeis U, 2002. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Microform, 2002. Print.
- Waite, Frederick Clayton. History of the New England Female Medical College, 1848-1874. Boston: Boston U School of Medicine, 1950. p.132.
- Gregory, Samuel. Letter to Ladies in Favor of Female Physicians for Their Own Sex. 3rd ed. Boston: The College, 1856. pp. 4-50.
- Sarah Whitman Salisbury, MD (1861). Introductory Lecture, Delivered November 8, 1860. Boston: Ladies' Medical Academy: Ripley & CO. Prnters.
- Annual Report of the Ladies' Medical Academy. Boston: Ripley & CO. Printers. 1860. pp. 1–8.
- William Harvey King, M. D., LL. D. (1905) History of Homeopathy and its Institutions in America
- Esther Hill Hawks
- Walsh, Mary R. "Sympathy and Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine." The American Historical Review 91.3 (1986): 748.
- Frederick C. Waite History of the New England Female Medical College. Boston, Boston University School of Medicine, 1950. 132 p.
- "Female Medical College of 100 Years Ago Had Two Professors and Not Even a Skeleton", O'Brien, Mary; Daily Boston Globe (1928-1960); Oct 21, 1948; p. 20.