Doctor or Doctress?

Explore American history through the eyes of women physicians


“Ladies! History is useful only as its lessons may be made available for instruction."

--Mary Scarlett-Dixon, M.D., 1870, Woman’s Medical College class of 1857

Primary sources, such as original letters, photographs, and newspaper clippings, help create a view of the past far richer than textbooks do.  Doctor or Doctress? was created in order to make primary sources accessible to high school students and teachers. The stories featured on Doctor or Doctress? make history more approachable by guiding students in interpreting and understanding these materials.

Today, archivists are reviewing their roles as keepers and curators of the documented past. We are eager to share our repositories’ collections with all potential audiences – and we are also determined to help those audiences get the most out of those collections. With this in mind, Drexel University College of Medicine’s Legacy Center was awarded a planning grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage through the Heritage Philadelphia Program (HPP) in 2010. The goal was to make the Center’s unique collection on women in medicine not only available, but truly accessible, to high school students and their teachers. The collection’s value to filling the gap in teaching and learning about women’s roles in American history spurred the project team forward. Through a second HPP grant, we have developed and implemented a web resource that makes the Center’s rich Women in Medicine digital collection easily accessible to this audience, who are increasingly required to use and understand primary sources.

The result is Doctor or Doctress? Explore American history through the stories of women physicians. The collections at the Drexel University College of Medicine Legacy Center reflect the history of one of its predecessor institutions, the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania--the first medical school in the world for women--as well as history of women in medicine internationally. Through the resources in Doctor or Doctress?, students come to understand the “big picture” by learning core history themes -- such as the Civil War and Reconstruction, World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, the Progressive Era, Social Justice and Civil Rights -- through the lens of 19th and early 20th century women. Approaching broad historical topics through individual women’s experiences, students will understand and use primary sources to make their own well-informed interpretations of American history -- interpretations that include women’s perspectives. Working with the Women in Medicine digital collection in Doctor or Doctress?, students will discover individual women’s stories within the broader scope of history while building historical thinking and critical analysis skills.

The site provides the guidance that young learners need to place primary source documents in historical and cultural context: Video, audio, timelines, maps, contextualized presentations of primary source documents, and interpretive metadata help students to answer the question, “why should I care?” In working collaboratively with high school students we find that these primary sources elicit surprise, righteous indignation, awe and inspiration. And ultimately, experience with primary sources facilitates students’ ability to articulate why history matters, and why they care.

--The Legacy Center Archives and Special Collections, May 2014


If you're interested in more of the technical details of Islandora development for Doctor or Doctress, check out this blog post: Tales from the Tech Side