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Pioneering Women Doctors

Geneva Medical College of New York admitted the first woman into its medical training program in 1847. What began as a joke within the male student body helped launch the beginning of new career goals for women. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to enter and graduate from a medical program in the United States, yet even with this advancement, men continued to treat women as inferior. Dr. Blackwell was forced to travel to Europe to gain the necessary experience; Paris, France namely, which was the mecca for women interested in medicine at this time.

In the 1850s, Dr. Myra King Merrick emerged as a leading female physician in Cleveland. Dr. Merrick became interested in medicine when her husband became ill and his treatment fell upon her. She studied medicine at the Central Medical College in Rochester, New York, and worked as a nurse at the Hydropathic Institute in order to gain experience. In 1852 she returned to Cleveland with her family, and during the Civil War she relocated to Lorain County where she helped treat wounded soldiers.

In 1867, Dr. Merrick and Dr. Cleora Seaman founded the Cleveland Homeopathic College for Women on Prospect Avenue. When the Cleveland Homeopathic School of Medicine stopped admitting women into their medical program, Dr. Merrick and Dr. Seaman felt it was an injustice. Both doctors saw the dire need for women to have a place to learn and gain professional experience. The college produced a number of prominent Cleveland women doctors, including Dr. Kate Parsons, Dr. Sarah Marcus, Dr. Martha Canfield, and Dr. Josephine Danforth Gillette. These leading women physicians helped build the reputation of the Women's and Children's Free Medical and Surgical Dispensary, which eventually became Woman's General Hospital.

Dr. Merrick and Dr. Parsons founded the dispensary in 1878 and the other women doctors served not only as physicians, but also on the board of directors. Dr. Canfield in particular played an important role in the dispensary's transformation into a hospital. These women each helped pave the way for other women to achieve the dream of becoming doctors. They provided a place not only for education, but also for a chance to obtain experience in the field and pass their knowledge on to the next generation of women doctors.

Images

Dr. Martha Canfield Dr. Martha Canfield was instrumental in the advancement of the dispensary becoming a full-fledged hospital. Dr. Canfield served on the board of trustees and was also the president of the board. Source: Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum, Case Western Reserve University
Dr. Myra King Merrick Dr. Myra King Merrick was born in 1825 in Hinckley, Leicestershire, England and immigrated to America, ultimately settling in Cleveland in 1841. Dr. Merrick was instrumental in the establishment of the Women and Children's Free Medical and Surgical Dispensary. Image Courtesy of Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum, Case Western Reserve University.
Dr. Josephine Danforth Gillette Dr. Josephine Danforth Gillette played an integral role at Woman's General Hospital, serving on the board and playing an active role in the dispensary. Dr. Gillette was also instrumental in documenting the history of the dispensary and Dr. Merrick's time there. Dr. Gillette worked at the hospital until she retired in 1939. Image Courtesy of Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum, Case Western Reserve University.
Dr. Kate Parsons Dr. Kate Parsons was a graduate of the Cleveland Homeopathic College for Women in Cleveland. Dr. Parsons was a co-founder of the Women and Children's Free Medical and Surgical Dispensary along with Dr. Merrick. Dr. Parsons served as the first treasurer of the dispensary, and served on the board until her death. Image Courtesy of Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum, Case Western Reserve University.
Dr. Sarah Marcus Dr. Sarah Marcus was a graduate of the Cleveland Homeopathic College for Women, served as a practicing physician at the Woman's General Hospital, and later became head of the obstetrics and gynecology department. Dr. Marcus served on the board in the capacity of vice president and president. Dr. Marcus was also one of the first physicians to serve at the Maternal Health Association Clinic, which later became Planned Parenthood of Greater Cleveland. Dr. Marcus practiced under both Dr. Canfield and Dr. Gillette. Image Courtesy of Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum, Case Western Reserve University.
Women's Hospital Nurses, 1908 This photo depicting a pair of nurses was included in the annual financial report for the Woman's and Children's Free Medical and Surgical Dispensary in 1908. Image Courtesy of Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum, Case Western Reserve University.
Women's Hospital Nurses, 1950 During the renovations that took place at Woman's General Hospital in October of 1950, all equipment had to be removed from the affected areas. Here, a few nurses help by moving equipment out of the building on a cart. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Women's Hospital Nurses, 1967 A pair of nurses test out new equipment on August 9, 1967, at Woman's General Hospital. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Location

Metadata

Kimberly Cole , “Pioneering Women Doctors,” Cleveland Historical, accessed October 3, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/589.