2 First Female Medical College 

Xander Friedel

When we think about women doctors we usually admire them because of their great advancements in history and the fact that they stand as a protest to sexism in its own ideals. This of course was not always the case, prior to 1850 women weren’t allowed to be a part of the medical field at all. But that all changed once the first female medical school was opened.

Changing the Times

During the year 1850 in Philadelphia, the first ever women’s medical college was opened. This was quite the astounding time for women as they were finally allowed to get their M.D. and become an official doctor.[1] At the first graduation, Joseph S. Longshore, professor of obstetrics and founder of the college, told the eight graduates: “This day forms an eventful epoch in the history of your lives, in the history of women, in the history of the race.”[2] He was a Quaker who heavily advocated for equal rights and the inclusion of women in the workplace. Because of this break from the “normal” that the men of the time had come to expect, they were intimidated by the fact that women could now do some of the jobs that men had previously dominated and started to bully women for it. This didn’t deter them, however, and just made the women more determined to work for their M.D. and be treated as equals. After this, women were finally able to become physicians and make their way into the world of men and medicine. Finally able to put their own mark on history.


Old picture of a brown brick building. This building is the old and original female medical college in Pennsylvania.
Image Source: Mandell, Melissa. “Female Medical College.” Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, n.d. https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/womans-medical-college-of-pennsylvania/#23105.

History of Sexism in the Medical Field

Sexism didn’t end immediately after the college was built, but a lot more opportunities opened for women after they got their M.D. Once the civil war broke out in 1861, doctors were in need and this was women’s time to shine. With their new M.D.’s, women were doing operations on the wounded and the ill much faster and better than some men could. This time in history was quite pivotal for women to show their skills –  and that they did. Among these women was Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, who helped establish WCAR. An initiative designed to help get supplies for union soldiers.[3] Another prominent doctor was Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, who helped the union and got the medal of honor for her hard work. Of course we cannot forget Clara Burton, who was an amazing nurse during the civil war and helped many men survive. Once the war was over, women were more prevalent in the medical field – holding doctor and physician positions as well as being nurses and other medical aids.

Six nurses and doctors having a drink under a medical tent on the field.
Image Source: Freiler, Lauren. “Civil War Nurses.” Civil War Nurses, n.d.


Since the Civil War, many women have made their way into the medical field and have done so many great things for humanity. Because of the ability of women to become physicians, they have shown their prowess in the field and have shown men that women can do just as much as they can (if not more). All thanks to the founders who felt like it was time for a change[4] and the fact that they had to persevere in their work to get the change in the world done right. Without them and the first female medical college they built, women would not have the rights to become licensed physicians to help themselves and others.



I am a feminist and enjoy playing games with my friends. I enjoy the deep discussions that we have in class and I am glad that I am a part of them. It was so much fun this year learning so many interesting things about feminism and the different stories of women that might not necessarily reach our history textbooks.

  1. Bodley, Rachel. “The First Female Medical College.” The Observer Newspaper. August 11, 1854. Women Physician.
  2. Fee, Elizabeth, and Theodore Brown. “An Eventful Epoch in the History of Your Lives” 94 (March 2004): 1.
  3. Green, Jocelyn. “5 Pioneering Women Doctors and Nurses of the Civil War.” Informational. Jocelyn Green Inspiring Faith and Courage, n.d. http://www.jocelyngreen.com/2015/03/29/5-pioneering-women-doctors-and-nurses-of-the-civil-war.
  4. This is meant to be Joseph S. Longshore and other people like him who encouraged women to go for their dreams and achieve greatness.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Gender and Sexuality Throughout World History Copyright © 2020 by Xander Friedel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book