Doctor or Doctress?

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Newspaper clipping from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin describing the events of November 6, 1869, when group of 20-30 female students from the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP), went to the Pennsylvania Hospital amphitheater to attend a clinical lecture also attended by several hundred male medical students. Their attendance drew a strong response from the male students, including jeering, 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

Though Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania had been training women to be doctors since 1850, in 1869 many male medical students were still opposed to female students attending clinical lectures with them. The author of this newspaper article describes the "Jeering Episode" that took place at Pennsylvania Hospital in November 1869 and expresses the view that male medical students were not justified in their opposition to and harassment of the female students. The author states that the bad behavior of the male students demeaned both the women and themselves, since it was "ungentlemanly" and not appropriate for future doctors and professionals.

Analyze this evidence

  • The article indicates male students disapproved of the hospital managers' allowance of women into the clinics. Would there have been a more effective way for them to express their displeasure? If yes, how? If no, why?
  • Why would these men object to women entering the medical profession?

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The Pennsylvania Hospital on Saturday was the scene of an outrage, repetition of which will, we sincerely hope, result in a summary punishment of the offenders. Recently the managers of this hospital gave the students of the Women's Medical College permission to attend the clinical lectures delivered in the institution. On Saturday, for the first time, about thirty young women, students of the Women's College, attended the hospital. The students of the male colleges, knowing that the ladies would be present, turned out several hundred strong with the design of expressing their disapproval of the action of the managers of the hospital, particularly, and of admission of women to the medical profession generally. Ranging themselves in line, these gallant gentlemen assailed these young ladies as they passed, with insolent and offensive language, and then followed them into the street, where the whole gang, with the fluency of long practice, joined in insulting these helpless, unprotected women. It was a blackguard action, which deprives every man in that crowd of any claim to the title gentleman. If these women had given gross offence; if they had indulged in any unwomanly behavior; if they had intruded themselves in the hospital in violation of the rules, even then there would have been no excuse for such infamous conduct as this on the part of the students. But these ladies had an absolute right there; they were admitted by precisely the same authority that admitted the blackguards; and more than this, it was right that they should accept the privilege offered them if they wished to do so. We are of the opinion that it would be more pleasant for the young women and for the professors, if the female classes could attend separate lectures. In every hospital there must always be cases which come up for demonstration, which are not nice, and which young men and women had better not study together. For this reason one hospital might be devoted entirely to female students. But if these choose to attend the regular clinical lectures, if they examine disgusting cases without embarrassment, we do not perceive why the male students need have any scruples about being present. If any of the students are troubled with such delicate sensibilities that they cannot bear to listen to medical lectures in the presence of women, it would be better for them to withdraw. Such tender youths as these are not fitted for the harsh trials of life. We presume that this demonstration was intended, as much as for any other purpose, to be a protest against the right of women to practice medicine. Why these sagacious youths object to female physicians we do not know, unless it is that they are conscious of intellectual deficiency, and are afraid of competition from persons whom they feel to be their superiors mentally as they are morally. Cowardice, probably, is the ruling motive, intellectual cowardice, that was expressed by the physical faintheartedness, which summoned three hundred male students before it dared to attack thirty defenseless women. But we can tell these young boors that it is too late in the century to decide against the right of women to study and practice medicine, even supposing the impossible case that their opinion upon the subject is of any value whatever. Not only have the wisest and best men in the profession approved of the admission of women, and contributed to securing them proper privileges and opportunities and recognition; but the sense of the entire community favors the system, or at least the extension to woman of the liberty to study and practice a science for which she is particularly fitted, if she wishes to do so. If this was not the common sentiment before, it will be likely to be now. The methods adopted by the students will only win sympathy for their victims, and for themselves the contempt and scorn of every man who possesses the instincts of a gentleman. The outrage on Saturday was the culmination of a long series of petty insults. We have heard before of ungentlemanly treatment of women students in classrooms and lecture rooms, and we say that the time has come when this tyranny must be stopped. In the classrooms it ought to be repressed by the professors, who should never have permitted the slightest manifestations of rudeness from the rowdies in their classes. If, as has been hinted, we sincerely hope without any reason, any of the professors sympathize with and encourage this blackguardism, they should be removed. Such men are unworthy of confidence and respect. But when these students carry their ruffianly behavior into the street they become answerable to the civil authorities. If a repetition of the outrage of Saturday is attempted, the police should arrest as many as possible of the offenders for insulting women in the street, and subject them to the penalties of the law. This, and the expulsion of a few of the ringleaders from their respective colleges, may have a salutary effect, by teaching these fellows that while the law cannot punish them for not being gentlemen, it can and will hold them responsible for outlawry and breach of the peace.