Doctor or Doctress?

Explore American history through the eyes of women physicians

National History Day

National History Day 2019 — Student and Teacher Resources

Doctor or Doctress has a number of rich, interesting topics and resources that work well with the 
2019 NHD theme: Triumph and Tragedy in History

Learn more about the 2018-2019 theme at »


NHD topic ideas for 2019:

  • The triumphs of a female civil war surgeon
    Among the first generation of women physicians, Dr. Mary Walker led a dramatic career on a number of battlefronts.  She served as a surgeon for the Union Army during the Civil War, where she was captured and held prisoner in Richmond, VA.  President Andrew Johnson awarded Walker the Medal of Honor for her service, but it was later revoked in 1916.  After the war, Dr. Walker's life was marked by her activism, especially by her ardent push for women's dress reform. Primary sources & background »
  • Triumph and tragedy: Two women, two paths
    In 1897, Eliza Grier and Matilda Evans both graduated from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania. As black women, they faced an uphill battle against both gender and racial discrimination to earn their degrees and establish themselves as physicians. After receiving their medical degrees, both Grier and Evans set up practices in South Carolina. From that point, their career paths diverged widely. Primary sources & background »
  • Women in World War I make their own opportunities
    During the intense and unprecedented fighting of World War I, U.S. women were barred from serving as official army doctors. Determined to serve, a group of female physicians established the American Women's Hospitals as an outlet for their skills. While serving in France, the AWH provided essential medical care to French civilians in areas devastated by war. Primary sources & background »
  • In the shadow of world peace, a refugee crisis
    While some nations celebrated the triumph of peace at the end of World War I, communities in Greece and Turkey faced continued social upheaval. In 1922, a catastrophic fire destroyed the Turkish port city of Smyrna, and tens of thousands fled the blaze toward Greece. The refugees were held in tent camps on the barren island of Macronissi, without ready access to food, water, or medical care. Primary sources & background »
  • Community health in Depression-era Appalachia
    Amidst the financial and social devastation of the Great Depression, many rural, isolated communities struggled to keep themselves healthy. In these areas, public health relief efforts like those conducted by the American Women's Hospitals were critical. Primary sources & background »
  • Black women doctors overcome obstacles
    Around 1900, African American women who became doctors had trouble finding jobs, so many created their own opportunities and became leaders caring for people in their communities. Primary sources & background »


In addition to these suggested topics, explore all of our Digital Collections on Women Physicians, with free online access to 1000s of items, including images, correspondence, scrapbooks, clippings, college records, diaries, and ephemera documenting the history of women.

If you are in the Philadelphia region and want to visit, we welcome students and teachers to use and tour our archives.  For students and teachers, we are open evenings by appointment.

For all teachers and classrooms, we can offer no-cost video chat services like research assistance, virtual classroom visits, and live video tours. Contact us to make arrangements and learn more!

Email us at if you have any questions.