Doctor or Doctress?

Explore American history through the eyes of women physicians

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Photographs of a skeleton dressed in a student’s clothing, sitting on a chair in a dormitory room at Woman’s Medical College; Nellie Louise Lawrence (WMCP 1896), Ellen James Patterson (WMCP 1898), and Alice Hatheway Purvis (WMCP 1898) posing for a photograph with a skeleton - the woman in the center is holding a lute; and Laura Heath Hills and her classmates, enjoying a dinner in the boarding room she shared with Grace Schermerhorn.

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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. Because the College was a medical school, the classes women enrolled in differed greatly from classes female students at other colleges were required to take. 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. 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. However, they also needed time to relax and take a break from their studies, much like students today.

Early college students recognized the importance of taking a break from their hard work just as students today recognize. Although the way they spent time together may differ from the way students today meet up for fun, social interaction and having the ability to laugh were still important.

Creator: Hills, Laura Heath

Contributor: Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania

Language: english

Item Number: P4280; P4287; P4302

Physical Collection: ACC-126

Finding Aid:

Link to OPAC Record:

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--Student housing

Women medical students

Stringed instruments

Purvis, Alice Hatheway

Patterson, Ellen James

Lawrence, N. Louise

Schermerhorn, Grace C.

Philadelphia (Pa.)