Doctor or Doctress?

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Interview with Dr. Anna Broomall, an 1871 graduate of Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP) who was one of the small number of female medical students who attended a lecture attended by hundreds of male medical students at Pennsylvania Hospital on November 6, 1869. This event came to be known among students, faculty, and alumnae of WMCP as the "The Jeering Episode." The Jeering Episode and ensuing debate about women medical students were widely covered in regional newspapers, and this is one of the numerous articles about the incident collected by the College. The scrapbook was made by pasting clippings into an existing, bound, printed volume.

Why It Matters

In the 1926 article, Anna Broomall, an 1871 graduate of WMCP, recalls the events of November 6, 1869 when she was one of a group of female medical students who attended a clinical lecture at Pennsylvania Hospital and were met with harassment and "jeering" by the hundreds of male medical students in attendance. Broomall recounts this event as an illustration of the obstacles that the women of her generation faced in pursuit of their medical education and careers, and expresses pride that they persevered.

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Analyze this evidence

  • Based on Anna Broomall's description of this incident, do you feel the male students' actions were intended to harass the female students, disrupt their learning, or send a message to administrators?
  • Do you think the presence of two managers of the Board, William Biddle and Dilwyn Parrish, served to escalate or reduce tensions? Or did it make no difference at all?

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The Woman’s Medical College, our country’s oldest institution of the kind, has just dismissed with its benison a large graduating class of trained physicians, some of whom are going to African and Arabia, where they will be received as benefactors. Dr. Anna Broomall, for whose 79th birthday a reception was held a few days ago, can tell of a time when here in Philadelphia, young men who were students at our medical colleges were worse than modern “barbarians” in their treatment of the first women who had the temerity to invade their profession. The Woman’s Medical College, started on Arch Street in 1850, migrated to North College Avenue in 1875. Dr. Broomall, entering in 1867, received her degree in 1871, and was the first Philadelphia woman to knock at the fate of the famous medical school in Vienna. The paternal Dr. Billroth held up his hands in shocked desperation when she applied to him: “Oh my child!” he exclaimed. “Surgery isn’t the thing for women!” “But women require surgery, don’t they?” was the answer of the unabashed American girl. “Yes,” he conceded, “but you will be the only one.” “I am willing,” was her prompt reply, “if you will admit me to your lectures.” He capitulated, and Dr. Broomall returned to Philadelphia after years of study to engage eventually in a large practice and to hold a professorship at the college for twenty-six years. But even before she went to Vienna, she was one of a group of several young women bent on the study of medicine who encountered violent hostility here at home. They called it the ‘mob of ‘69’” she tells us. “In fall of that year I had been at the college two years and we had had no clinics. We sought to attend those of the Pennsylvania Hospital, which has just been celebrating its 175th birthday. Dr. A. M. Preston asked Dr. Sarah Williams and me to go to the Pennsylvania Hospital and buy tickets, at $2 apiece, for the members of our class to attend the clinics. A friend of mine, Marcus Corson, handed me a slip of paper that had been passed among the students of the University, then on 9th Street, below Market. I have the paper still. It read, ‘Go tomorrow to the hospital to see the She Doctors!’ We already knew we weren’t popular. But we filed into the steward’s office, and he took a long time to make tout the necessary permits. There were twenty of us. Next day, when we tuned up at the clinic, in what was then the new amphitheater, pandemonium broke loose: the students rushed in pell-mell, stood up in the seats, hooted, called us names and threw spitballs, trying in vain to dislodge us. Two of the board of managers, Dilwyn Parrish and William Biddle, had wind of what was coming and thought it best to be on hand. William Biddle, orthodox Friend, wore a broad-brimmed hat, and the boys, without respect of persons yelled, ‘Hat, hat!’ A man of wealth and the highest public standing, it was surely the worst affront he ever received. He entreated them to behave themselves, but his appeal made them more obstreperous than ever. Then Dilwyn Parrish entered. A Hicksite, and less particular in the matter of headgear, he had doffed his hat. He called preemptively: “Boys, we will not have this!’ But it was not for him to decide. In the midst of the swelling bedlam Dr. Hutchinson came in to lecture, with the patients on the stretchers before him. Throughout the lecture, which lasted from 10 to 11, the hooting and jeering continued. Then the surgical lecturer, Dr. Levis, and able surgeon and operator, took his turn, but with no better success. When at last the second hour came to an end, as all things must, we had scarcely heard a word of what our preceptors had been trying to tell us. We were hustled and jostled into the hall. Dilwyn Parrish had sent men to close the gates against the boys. They burst the barriers open and knocked him over in the fracas. He raised his trembling hands in protest, crying, "The Pennsylvania Hospital will not have this!" Borne along as on the crest of a wave, we found ourselves in 8th Street and went twenty different ways, still pursued by taunts and jeers. The newspapers took up cudgels in our behalf; the Public Ledger was our good friend, declaring such conduct scandalous and indefensible. We went back. The disorder was renewed, but with diminishing violence, and at last the opposition wore itself out. The present generation should be given to know what such women have done for all other women. More than one among us hold in her capable hands the lamp of Florence Nightingale, and the flame of it burns bright and clear.