Five Women Determined to be Doctors and the Role Michigan
Played in Helping Them Achieve their Dream
by Janet Tarolli
well remember the day we read in the Boston papers that the
University of Michigan had opened its doors to women in all
departments," physician Eliza Mosher recalled years later.
The year that would forever stand out in her memory was 1870.
She and four other interns, all of whom wanted the kind of medical
education available only at the best medical schools, were in
the laboratory at the New England Hospital for Women and Children
in Boston when they heard the news. "We five young women
joined hands and danced around the table," Mosher said.
women had no illusions about how they would be received
at Michigan. Mosher had already applied to Michigan and
had received a reply from Professor Alonzo Palmer stating, "For
my part, I can not see how right-minded women can wish to
study medicine with men!"  But
the women knew that success in their future careers depended
upon receiving a thoroughly competent medical education
at an established school — and they were ready to take on
whatever challenges faced them. The five friends were Amanda
Sanford, Anna Hutchinson Searing, Elizabeth Hait Gerow,
Eliza Maria Mosher, and Emma Louisa Call, interns at the
New England Hospital. Their stories give us a vivid picture
of the ambition of the Medical School's early female applicants
— women with determination.
The five women who danced around a table to celebrate the University
of Michigan's decision to admit women came to the Medical School
with experience. The hospital at which they were training, the
New England Hospital for Women and Children, was established
in 1862 to provide practical experience for women medical graduates
and an introduction to medicine for educated women. No other
suitable hospitals in the area would accept women. To appreciate
this hospital's importance, one needs to know something about
the background of its founder, Marie Zakrzewska (zak-SHEF-ska),
and her mentor, Elizabeth Blackwell.
The Women's Medical Movement:
from New England to Michigan
In the United States, the women's medical movement began through
the efforts of Elizabeth Blackwell, who graduated from Geneva
Medical College in 1849 and proceeded to open medical education
to American women. When Blackwell met Zakrzewska in 1854, she
immediately recognized the potential in this young German immigrant
of Polish descent who was a skilled midwife with formal training
in Berlin. Blackwell sponsored her into the medical department
of the Western Reserve College in Cleveland, and, when she graduated
in 1856, Zakrzewska helped Blackwell raise funds to establish
the New York Infirmary for Women and Children and became its
first resident physician. In 1859 Zakrzewska went to Boston
where she was associated with the New England Female Medical
College and its hospital for three years. In 1862 she established
the independent New England Hospital for Women and Children
and modeled it after Blackwell's New York Infirmary.
Starting with a single house in downtown Boston, the hospital
grew to four buildings by 1865 and moved, in 1872, to a modern
facility in Roxbury. When Amanda Sanford, Eliza Mosher, Anna
Searing, Elizabeth Gerow and Emma Call trained there, the hospital
in Boston consisted of one large house and three smaller ones
connected by a covered passageway. This configuration provided
for separation of the maternity, medical, surgical, and dispensary
patients and housing for the resident physician. By 1868, the
hospital was treating over 5,000 patients annually.
The hospital hierarchy was similar to that found in hospitals
associated with men's schools. The attending physician visited
the hospital frequently, prescribing and administering medicine
and other treatments during teaching rounds with the resident
physician and interns. The resident physician supervised the
interns, carried out the medical orders of the attending physician
and notified the attending physician in cases of emergency.
Her job was key to the smooth functioning of the hospital and
dispensary. The interns supervised the nurses. There were nurses
from the beginning but no nurse training program until 1872,
so it is likely that the interns were involved with bathing,
lifting and turning patients as much as with doctoring. Although
Harvard College remained closed to them for theoretical instruction,
Massachusetts General Hospital was allowing a few New England
Hospital students to visit in 1866-67. In 1869 Zakrzewska and
Lucy E. Sewall were the attending physicians.
Interns rotated through maternity, medical, surgical and dispensary
services over a year's time, spending three months in each.
In the 1860s and 1870s some interns, such as Eliza Mosher, were
accepted without a medical degree; they were called "amateur
interns." However, by 1877 everyone who entered was a graduate
M.D., and in 1880 this became a requirement. Between 1862 and
1872, 29 interns received training at the hospital, including
one from Michigan, Ruth A. Gerry, M.D., of Ypsilanti (1865-66).
Gerry and physicians Helen Walker McAndrew of Ypsilanti, Anna
M. Longshore-Potts of Adrian, Frances Rutherford of Grand Rapids,
and others were working hard to open the doors of the University
of Michigan to women in the 1860s. Public sentiment was growing
in Michigan in support of coeducation, including medical coeducation.
This was crucial to the women's medical movement, but in the
eastern United States higher collegiate barriers were being
Acceptance to Medical School Becomes Harder . . . and Easier
Women had to overcome many obstacles to gain access to the type
of medical education available to men. In the 1850s, only those
women with an uncommon sense of purpose achieved access, and
when they became successful practitioners they were tolerated
as a novelty. As women physicians increased in number and reputation
in the 1860s, some physicians became alarmed that they would
compete for patients and income. Certain medical schools that
had admitted women stopped doing so. Harvard and the major schools
in New York City and Philadelphia had for years rejected all
applications from women, although some individual professors
The ire of the public was aroused against these exclusionary
practices, and in the interest of the "rights" of
women, many schools were established for the purpose of educating
women physicians. These schools were, for the most part, coeducational
from the beginning, but they held to low standards, partly as
a result of competition for students. The education they provided
in homeopathy, hydropathy, or eclecticism was considered deficient
or dangerous by those aspiring to traditional medicine, but
many women tended to find in them a gentler, more natural art
of healing. Traditionalists maintained that if an intelligent,
ambitious woman could not produce credentials from a scientifically
rigorous school, she would not receive the same consideration
from the public.
The need for access to the best medical schools was becoming
acute by the late 1860s. To do her part to stem the flood
of inferior physicians graduating in New York City, Elizabeth
Blackwell opened a women's medical school in 1868 to complement
the New York Infirmary. That school and the Woman's Medical
College of Pennsylvania, which had gradually improved its
program since opening in 1850, maintained standards comparable
to men's schools, but they alone could not produce well-educated
women physicians in sufficient numbers. Blackwell and Zakrzewska
and their followers renewed their efforts to open the men's
schools to women, targeting the schools that from their standpoint
were the best — Harvard and the major schools in New York
City and Philadelphia. To them it was axiomatic that, to be
a medical school must have an association with a large hospital,
as in the European model of medical education.
One of the obstacles to entry into the "best" men's
schools was that they could not provide for the clinical education
of women. As Joseph Lister argued in 1872 in remarks pertaining
to the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, "The reasons which
are generally held to make it inexpedient for ladies to attend
lectures on medical subjects along with male students in the
college class-rooms apply with tenfold force against such mixed
attendance in the wards of an hospital."
On the wards, men and women would be jostled together out of
the direct observation and control of the instructor. In order
to meet requirements for graduation, women students would necessarily
be assigned progressively responsible clinical positions. Men
and women would then be forced to work in close association
during consultation and professional emergencies, in the absence
of sufficient numbers of junior and senior women house officers
to work as a pair, leading in the long run to "great inconvenience
& scandal." If women were
to be taught the practice of medicine, he concluded, they must
be educated in an entirely separate institution. But in 1870,
the University of Michigan was well positioned to receive an
influx of women medical students. Twenty years old, it was an
established school with a national reputation, yet not encumbered
by a large clinical edifice with a complex hierarchy.
In the decade that followed, it became much easier for a woman
to enter a school of medicine, which spawned a new set of problems.
All a woman needed, according to Zakrzewska, was the permission
of her parents and a means of support while she was in school.
As a graduate physician she would be accorded respect and social
standing in the community and have a means of independent support,
a very attractive life option when compared with the washtub
or cambric needle. However, the graduate may not have always
lived up to expectations. In 1877, Zakrzewska expressed concern
that many of these women possessed doubtful ability because
of inadequate preparatory or medical education. The public,
initially so hopeful about the entrance of women into the profession,
was beginning to view the movement with distrust after receiving
services from so many women lacking a scientific education and
practical talent, she reported. Zakrzewska made it clear that
these remarks applied to all recent graduates except those educated
at the two women's medical colleges in New York and Philadelphia
and the University of Michigan.
Zakrzewska renewed her efforts toward equal educational opportunity
for women. Medical education for women was still experimental,
but women must be allowed to succeed or fail on their own merits.
She argued, "In order that the test be a fair one, they
must have preparation and education and subsequent opportunity,
equal to those given to the men."
In 1880, Zakrzewska called for the leading women in each
state to lobby the best medical colleges to become coeducational.
A few years earlier she had rejected an unofficial Harvard
proposal to acquire separate buildings — two miles away —
for women medical students. "Meanwhile," she said, "we
have another bright prospect in the admission of women to
the University of Michigan, at Ann Arbor. Although the medical
students are not in the same classrooms, yet the lectures
and the opportunities for women are precisely the same as
those for men."
The Medical Faculty on Women: Mentally Qualified, but...
In 1870-71 the medical faculty consisted of Abram Sager, professor
of obstetrics and diseases of women and children; Silas Douglas,
professor of chemistry and director of the Chemical Laboratory;
Alonzo Palmer, professor of pathology and practice of medicine;
Corydon Ford, anatomy and physiology; Albert Prescott, professor
of organic chemistry, applied chemistry, and pharmacy; Henry
Cheever, professor of therapeutics and materia medica; Alpheus
Crosby, professor of surgery; George Frothingham, lecturer on
ophthalmology; and Preston Rose, assistant in chemistry. Henry
Frieze was president pro tem of the University. The enrollment
in the medical department in 1869-70 was 338, all men, and in
1870-71 enrollment was 315, of which 18 were women.
The historical record provides ample evidence that the arrival
of the women medical students in Ann Arbor in fall 1870 was
not particularly relished by the faculty. That spring, in
a failed attempt to alter the course of events voted upon
by the regents in January, Professors Crosby, Douglas, and
Palmer had presented to the regents the familiar and old arguments
relating to female medical education. In women's favor, they
allowed that women were not only mentally qualified to study
medicine but also had more pronounced sensibilities and sympathies
with the sick. Some women might indeed prefer "a life
devoted to the relief of human suffering, rather than the
cares of a family." The treatment
of diseases of women and children, at least, might be placed
in their hands — but not obstetrics, because a woman physician
might lack the courage and firmness needed in emergencies.
On the other hand, they continued, each month a woman is a
quasi-invalid and unable to think clearly, and each time a woman
bears a child, she must be largely incapacitated from practicing
medicine for at least a year following the birth. The forced
interruption in her practice would lead some, they said, to
be tempted to end their pregnancies or even kill their infants.
On these issues, the professors said, they were neutral, but
they preferred to consider medical coeducation experimental.
In summary, the faculty stood ready to provide a full course
of medical instruction to females — for a suitable compensation
— or to have a separate female medical college. As a result
of this petition, the faculty members received an increase
in pay for the extra work involved in teaching the women separately.
On the whole, the professors succeeded in treating the women
fairly that first difficult year. As Emma Call wrote years later,
"I entered the Medical Department of the University the
first year that women were admitted. The first class of women...were
naturally the objects of much attention critical or otherwise
(especially critical) so that in many ways it was quite an ordeal.
I believe that only one of the medical faculty was even moderately
in favor of the admission of women, so that it speaks well for
their conscientiousness when I say (with possibly one exception)
we felt that we had [a] square deal from them all."8 Corydon
Ford had taught Elizabeth Blackwell at Geneva Medical College
and was tolerant of the women students, but not all the professors
were so kind. The professor of chemistry, Silas Douglas, did
not intervene when the men students stamped their feet and shouted
as the women entered the lecture room for the one subject that
was taught to mixed classes.
Adella Brindle Woods, who attended medical classes at
U-M in 1873-74 and in 1876 graduated from the Woman's Medical
College of Pennsylvania, found the differences among the professors
striking: "I remembered with pleasure, dear, genial Dr.
Ford, professor of anatomy. I also remember the coarse, ribald
stories of Dr. Douglas, antiquated professor of chemistry, who
looked upon us women students as monstrosities. I remember with
kindly feeling, Dr. Palmer, professor of practice, who did not
approve of us, yet who was just and often said we were good
students, always adding he doubted if we would ever become successful
practitioners. I remember with real affection, Dr. Dunster [who
succeeded Sager in 1873], professor of obstetrics, a deeply
scientific lecturer and perfect teacher." She continued,
"I remember with contempt the loud and boisterous behavior
of the 500 men 'medics' when we (35 in number) entered the lecture
room. You could not find in a day's travel 35 women more modest
and unobtrusive than we were."
Eliza Mosher thought her medical education at Michigan entirely
worth the effort. "The University broadened my mental horizon.
Opposition increased my power of resistance, deepened my determination
to prove that I had both the ability and the right to become
a physician and to practice medicine beside the best men in
the profession. My acquaintance with men both as professors
and students gave me a conception of the workings of men's minds
which has been most helpful in my dealings with them in my later
Mosher lived in a rooming house that admitted both men and
women and belonged to an "eating club." In the club,
members purchased food to be cooked for the group and thus enjoyed
a more varied menu than usual boardinghouse fare. Members included
"men from all departments," some of whom became lifelong
friends." There are other reports
of cordial relations between the men and women medics, especially
after the arrival of President Angell and his wife, Sarah Caswell
Angell, in 1871.
An Important Legacy
Mosher, in particular, did develop a very successful career
and was given credit for working well with men. For women in
general, much of their success developing careers after graduation
depended upon their individual personalities and motivation,
as well as their support systems, in developing successful careers.
Career opportunities for women physicians opened up in community
hospitals and in private practice, but, for most women physicians,
professional opportunities in the form of major academic appointments
in coeducational schools were still many years away.
The lack of regulation of medical schools and private practice,
along with hospital construction in the second half of the nineteenth
century, did work to women's advantage, allowing them to found
and develop institutions in which to teach medicine and to practice
with other women physicians. Women's medical schools, however,
were destined to be temporary. The opening of men's schools
to women and the advances in medical science made it unnecessary
or economically unfeasible to continue to operate separate women's
medical colleges, and most closed well before the famous Flexner
Report of 1910.
After 1900, fewer women entered the medical profession at Michigan
and nationwide for complex reasons. The Flexner Report, which
did much to improve standards of teaching at medical schools
in America, also resulted in the closing of many medical colleges,
and, though not intended by Flexner himself, did contribute
to the decline in professional opportunities in medicine for
women and blacks at all levels. At Michigan, enrollment of women
in the Medical Department peaked in 1894-95 at 72. Starting
in 1892, there was a falling off in enrollment of women in the
professional departments (medicine, law, dentistry, pharmacy
and homeopathy) at U-M and a steady increase in women enrolled
in the literary department.
Between 1871 and 1900, the University of Michigan graduated
nearly 400 women physicians, perhaps the most of any coeducational
school in the U.S. The number of women enrolled in the Medical
School did not reach levels comparable to the 1890s until
the 1940s, only to fall once more. But if the five dancing
women — Amanda Sanford, Eliza Mosher, Anna Searing, Elizabeth
Gerow and Emma Call — could come back to Ann Arbor and the
Medical School today, they would be delighted by what they
would see and by the reception they would receive — from a
faculty with many women members and from a student body that
is now nearly half female.
As the brief biographies that follow tell us, the five friends
from the New England Hospital succeeded in achieving their dreams,
earning the praise of many of their teachers and later their
colleagues, and making significant contributions to American
medicine. The name of one of them, Eliza Mosher, who eventually
became the first dean of women at the University of Michigan,
is still known by students today, her name gracing a residence
hall on Observatory Street not far from the medical campus.
Sanford (1838-1894) was born in Rhode Island to a Quaker family
and as a young girl moved with her mother to the New York town
of Scipioville in Cayuga County. She attended the Union Springs
Seminary, a preparatory school run by the Society of Friends,
and completed one academic year at the Woman's Medical College
of Pennsylvania in March 1869. For eighteen months she trained
in Boston under preceptor Lucy E. Sewall. At the New England
Hospital, she learned the importance of strict cleanliness and
non-interference with the normal birth process and became a
skilled obstetrician. But she yearned for the further education
and credibility that a university degree would bring.
Sanford did well at Michigan, graduating with highest honors
in her class in March 1871. Her graduation thesis, "Puerperal
Eclampsia," was a thorough review of the state of knowledge
at the time about this dire obstetrical complication and included
some original research as well as statistics and case studies.
Former faculty member Henry F. Lyster, addressing the graduating
class, honored her by saying, "It is my pleasing duty to
welcome to the profession a woman coming from these halls."
Some young men threw paper at her from the gallery during Lyster's
address, but she maintained her composure and became even more
determined in the cause of women's rights.
She set up private practice in Auburn, also in Cayuga County,
the first woman in that city to do so, and developed successful,
fashionable private and hospital practices in obstetrics, gynecology,
surgery, and general medicine. She and her friend Eliza Mosher
went to London in 1879-80 where they were exposed to new ideas,
such as listerism and laparotomies. At the suggestion of Elizabeth
Blackwell, who was then living in England, they went to Paris
for additional clinical work and toured Europe. In 1884 she
married Patrick Hickey, a widower with children, and managed
their household while continuing her medical practice.
Emma Louisa Call
Louisa Call (1847-1937) was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
She was encouraged to study medicine by her father, Abraham
A. Call, who later was a director of the New England Hospital.
She met Eliza Mosher at the New England Hospital, where they
were a student team in obstetrics under Helen Morton, and they
became lifelong friends.
Call entered the University of Michigan in October 1870 with
Lucy E. Sewall as her preceptor. Like Eliza Mosher, she found
in anatomy an unchanging solid foundation for medical practice.
It is reported that her thesis, "Arrangement of Neurine
in the Cerebro-Spinal Axis," was useful to the professors
in their teaching. She graduated with top honors in the medical
class of 1873 and studied medicine in Vienna afterward.
Call pursued a career at the New England Hospital for Women
and Children, serving as an attending physician from 1875 to
1902 and consulting obstetrician from 1902 to 1920. She also
served as attending physician to the Massachusetts Infant Asylum
for approximately five years in the 1880s. Call was the first
woman member of the Massachusetts State Medical Society and
held membership in the American Medical Association. Her name
appears in pathology textbooks in relation to Call-Exner bodies,
which are densely staining materials in developing ovarian follicles.
Anna Hutchinson Searing
Hutchinson Searing (1830-1912), was born in Poplar Ridge, another
Cayuga County town in New York state, to a Quaker family.
matriculated at the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania
in October 1869, probably attending until the end of the
in March 1870. Following this, she engaged in clinical work
in Boston at the New England Hospital for Women and Children.
In 1871-72 she enrolled in the U-M Medical Department as
indicating she was given credit for work previously completed.
She wrote her graduation thesis on indigestion in 1872. After
graduation she studied medicine in Vienna for one year.
Searing practiced medicine in Rochester, New York, with Sarah
Adamson Dolley, the third woman in the U.S. to receive a medical
degree (after Elizabeth Blackwell, M.D., 1849, and Lydia Folger
Fowler, M.D., 1850). Dolley was an 1851 graduate of the Central
Medical College of New York at Syracuse, an eclectic institution.
Eclecticism was a medical approach that emphasized the use of
medicinal plants. Searing was associated with the Provident
Dispensary in Rochester, an ambulatory clinic for women and
children. In 1895, she retired from practice and moved to California.
Eliza Maria Mosher
Maria Mosher (1846-1928) was U-M's first dean of women and
was professor of hygiene, sanitation, and home economics
Department of Literature, Science, and the Arts, serving from
1896 to 1902. She was the first woman to become full professor
at the University.
Mosher was born in Poplar Ridge, the same hometown as that
of Anna Hutchinson Searing, to a Quaker family and completed
preparatory school work at Union Springs Seminary, which was
operated by the Society of Friends. Following clinical work
at the New England Hospital, she entered the University of
in 1871 with Lucy E. Sewall as her preceptor. At the completion
of the term, Mosher served an undergraduate internship at New
England Hospital under Susan Dimock. During 1872-73 Mosher
anatomy under Corydon Ford and served as assistant demonstrator
of anatomy to the women's section. Alonzo Palmer asked her
demonstrate a pathologic specimen to the men's class of hundreds,
which she did. Prophetically, he told her she would be a professor
some day. Mosher spent the following year at the New York Infirmary
under Emily Blackwell (Elizabeth's sister), and she gained
clinical experience at Bellevue and the DeMilt Dispensary.
She returned to Ann Arbor for the academic year 1874-75 to
her degree requirements. In 1879-80 she and Amanda Sanford
studied medicine in London and Paris.
Immediately after graduation, Mosher practiced medicine in
Poughkeepsie, New York, jointly with Elizabeth Gerow. She served
as resident physician and later as superintendent of the Massachusetts
Reformatory Prison, where she established hospital facilities.
In Brooklyn she entered private practice with Lucy M. Hall,
and they alternately served as resident physician and professor
of hygiene at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie. Mosher returned
to successful private practice in Brooklyn following her service
at the University of Michigan.
For six summers she lectured on hygiene at the Chautauqua
Summer School of Physical Education and also lectured on hygiene
at Wellesley and other colleges. A favorite visual aid was an
apron she wore with attached colored silk models of internal
To promote better posture in schoolchildren, she invented a
kindergarten chair. She also took out patents on a bicycle seat,
a subway bench, and a corset-like garment that did not impede
breathing. In 1912 Mosher published Health and Happiness-A Message
to Girls. From 1905 to 1928 she was senior editor of the Medical
Woman's Journal. Called the "dean of American medical women,"
she attained nationwide respect during her career of 52 years.
Elizabeth Hait Gerow
Elizabeth Hait Gerow (1845-1933) was born in Plattekill, Ulster
County, New York, to a Quaker family and educated at Union Springs
Seminary. She followed Eliza Mosher to the New England Hospital
for Women and Children and completed her clinical work there.
In 1873, she entered the University of Michigan, with C. Annette
Buckel as her preceptor, graduating in 1875. After graduation
she and Mosher set up a joint practice in Poughkeepsie, New
York, which was near Gerow's relatives. Like Mosher, Gerow served
as resident physician at Vassar College. She continued her medical
practice in Poughkeepsie and Newburgh, New York, in the Hudson
River Valley. Upon retirement, she moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan,
and lived out her days there.
For more information on the history of women in academic medicine
in America, please contact Janet Tarolli at the U-M Historical
Center for the Health Sciences by phone at (734) 764-8215 or
by e-mail at email@example.com.
- "A Woman Doctor Who 'Stuck It Out,'" Literary
Digest 67, April 4, 1925.
- Alumnae Questionnaires, 1924, Alumni Association Records,
Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.
- Joseph Lister to Peter Bell, 1872, Archives of the
Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, Medical Archive Centre, Lothian
quoted in Shirley Roberts, Sophia Jex-Blake: A Woman Pioneer
in Nineteenth-Century Medical Reform, (London: Routledge,
1993), p. 133.
- Marie E. Zakrzewska, A Woman's Quest: The Life of Marie
E. Zakrzewska, (New York: Appleton, 1924), p. 379.
- Ibid., p. 383.
- A. B. Crosby, S. H. Douglas and A. B. Palmer, Memorial
to the Board of Regents, March 25, 1870, Michigan University
Journal (1870-71), p. 171.
- Alumnae Questionnaires, 1924, op. cit.
- "Banquet Tendered to Eliza M. Mosher, M.D., on
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