Doctor or Doctress?

Explore American history through the eyes of women physicians

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Photographs of Laura Heath Hills and Grace Schermerhorn reading in their boarding room; Woman’s Medical College students studying bones in the boarding room; and three Woman’s Medical College students reading in the College library.

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“I’ve finished the eye and I’m up on my ear”: A Female Medical Student’s Life

The students at Woman’s Medical College were encouraged to attend a four-year course in order to obtain their medical degrees. While it was possible to obtain a medical degree in just three years, Laura Heath Hills and some of her classmates opted for the four-year course, which allowed for a more thorough study of medical subjects as well as more time spent in clinics observing medical procedures. Dr. Hills was a member of the last class who did not have to meet the requirements of having attended four courses in medical instruction and at least four years of work in a medical field in order to enroll in a degree-seeking course. A woman who intended to earn a degree at Woman’s Medical College was also required to pass entrance examinations in English composition, math, physics, and Latin. A first-year student would take courses such as anatomy, chemistry, hygiene, and pharmacy; while third-year students would have more advanced and specialized courses such as pathology, operative surgery, and medical diagnosis. In addition to lectures, the student also worked in laboratories and observed surgeries. Students at Woman’s Medical College had long days and full schedules, even during their first year of study. At the end of each year, examinations were given; consequently, the students had to spend a good deal of their free time reading and applying what they read.

There was opposition to women receiving higher education in the 19th and early 20th centuries, especially if the curriculum taught subjects outside of the “women’s sphere” – that is, classes that focused on instruction in areas other than domestic skills or training in jobs traditionally held by women like teaching or nursing. Many early colleges that admitted women offered courses in “Domestic Science.” Woman’s Medical College, however, provided rigorous instruction in medicine, much as male students would receive at other medical schools.

Creator: Hills, Laura Heath

Contributor: Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania

Language: english

Item Number: P4293; P4361; P4363

Physical Collection: Laura Heath Hills scrapbook, ACC-126

Finding Aid:

Cite this source: Title of document, date. A Female Medical Student’s Life: I’ve finished the eye and I’m up on my ear. 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.

Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania--Students

Women medical students

Women--Education (Higher)

Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania--Student housing

Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania--Buildings



Philadelphia (Pa.)