Doctor or Doctress?

Explore American history through the eyes of women physicians

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Copy of a letter to Hannah Darlington from Ann Preston, 1851. Hannah Darlington was a fellow Quaker from Chester County, who, like Preston, was involved in the abolition movement. In her letter to Darlington, Preston discusses her health, her enthusiasm for her studies, lectures she has attended, and mutual friends.

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"Will you accept or reject them?" The First Female Medical College

There were many reform movements that swept through American society after 1820, including the Public Schools Movement to ensure public education for all; better care and treatment for mental illness; control of alcohol abuse (the Temperance Movement); and most famously, the abolition of slavery and the promotion of women’s rights. These last two movements are tied together: women were very active in the anti-slavery movement, and yet their contributions were limited by their legal and societal status. It is this setting in which a small band of Philadelphia’s Quakers began to envision a future where women were professional physicians, appropriately educated and serving their communities equally with their male counterparts.  Prior to 1850, women practiced medicine in their communities and worked as nurses and midwives, but had no opportunities to formally train as physicians and earn an medical degree. Female Medical College of Pennsylvania (later Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, or WMCP) was founded in 1850 as first degree-granting medical school exclusively for women. Ann Preston, a Quaker from the Philadelphia area, was in the College's first class and graduated in 1852. She went on to serve on the faculty of WMCP and become its first woman dean, and the first woman dean of any medical school, in 1866.

Preston’s account of WMCP faculty member Dr. Moseley’s rejection by the Philadelphia Medical Society indicates that widespread acceptance of women doctors had not been achieved. Her excitement of learning a new field of study in a stimulating atmosphere and discussion of her other intellectual pursuits, intertwined with her support of abolition and women’s rights, reflects the dynamism of this era in of rapid social change and experimentation, marked by new social standards and roles for women.

Creator: Preston, Ann, 1813-1872

Contributor: Darlington, Hannah

Language: english

Item Number: a289_001

Pages: 4

Size: 28x22

Physical Collection: Papers related to Ann Preston, M.D., ACC-289

Finding Aid:

Link to OPAC Record:

Cite this source: Title of document, date. The First Female Medical College: Will you accept or reject them?. 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.

Elder, William

Female Medical College of Pennsylvania--Students

Moseley, Nathaniel R.

Women medical students

Women--Education (Higher)

Philadelphia (Pa.)

Chester (Pa. : Township)