Doctor or Doctress?

Explore American history through the eyes of women physicians

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A book containing journal entries and correspondence about her experiences and work written by medical missionary, Dr. Clara Swain, upon her arrival in 1870 in Bareilly, India, and the 35 years following.

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“Why I Want to Go to Arabia”: Early Medical Missionaries in the Middle East

Clara Swain graduated from Woman’s Medical College in 1869 and was the first graduate of Woman’s Med to become a medical missionary.  She was the second woman who applied to Women's Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church for a position as a missionary doctor and the first one to be accepted.  The director of the girls’ orphanage of the Methodist Mission in Bareilly, India, had requested a female physician to aid the village.  Clara accepted the position and arrived in Bareilly in January 1870. Clara believed it was important to train local women to help assist her with patients. She began teaching them lessons, spending two to three hours a day with her students, preparing them for the “examination of fourth-grade doctors,” supervised by two civil surgeons and an American physician. While there had been resistance to Western medicine (and religion) by some of the native people, the Methodist Mission was given a property on which to build medical facilities.  In early 1872, Clara moved over to the new property, and by May 1873, a dispensary building was erected.   By January 1874, the first in-house patients were treated at the new dispensary and hospital. The completed hospital, known as the Clara Swain Hospital, was the first hospital for women in India.

The Clara Swain Hospital in Bareilly, India, was the first hospital in India for women.  Because there was no previous hospital, Clara and other missionaries had to make house calls to treat the women.  The new hospital allowed them to see more patients in a space with room for patient care and proper medical equipment.  Clara’s description of the hospital makes it clear how well the hospital was received by the local people.

Creator: Swain, Clara A., 1834-1910

Contributor: Methodist Episcopal Church. Woman's Foreign Missionary Society

Publisher: James Pott & Compnay

Publisher Location: New York

Language: english

Item Number: hq1431_s9_001_ 91 – 104

Pages: 391

Size: 12.7X18.9

Physical Collection: A Glimpse of India: Being a collection of extracts from the letters of Dr. Clara A. Swain, ACC-HQ1431/S9

Link to OPAC Record:

Cite this source: Title of document, date. Early Medical Missionaries in the Middle East: Why I Want to Go to Arabia. Doctor or Doctress?: Explore American history through the eyes of women physicians. The Legacy Center, Drexel University College of Medicine Archives & Special Collections. Philadelphia, PA. Date of access.

Swain, Clara A., 1834-1910

Missionaries, Medical--India

Women physicians--India

Zenana missions


Medical care -- India -- 19th century

Bareilly (India)

Rajputana (Agency)

Khetri (India)