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.