Doctor or Doctress?

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Hubert Work was trained as a physician and served as Secretary of the Interior under President Calvin Coolidge (1923-1928). Work wrote to Dr. Martha Tracy, the Dean of Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP), in response to her letter about the lack of professional opportunities for African American woman doctors. Work commends WMCP for its admission policies and sympathizes with Tracy’s complaint about the lack of internship opportunities for African American female physicians. He explains what the reasons are for this situation and goes on to describes the status of African American doctors at the Freedman’s Hospital of Howard University in Washington, DC.

Why It Matters

The fact that Work, a presidential cabinet member and a physician himself, recognized the growing number of African American doctors, including female doctors, and publicly supported this as a positive development, is significant. He takes the time to reply to Tracy and address her concerns, and seems sincere in his support for black women physicians. He cites the lack of appropriate housing as a reason why hospitals would not offer internship positions to female doctors. Early woman physicians often had to find their own private accommodations, or lived in nursing students’ housing.

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Analyze this evidence

  • According to Work, why are female medical school graduates having trouble finding suitable internships? Is this a valid reason?
  • How many women interns does Work say are currently serving at Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, DC?

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My dear Doctor Tracy: I have your letter of January 16, bearing upon my recent appeal to the President and Congress in behalf of a liberal support for the preparation of colored doctors and dentists at Howard University Medical College in this city. First, let me express my appreciation of the liberal policy pursued by your college in admitting colored women as students on an equal basis of preliminary requirement. This is as it should be and is a notable advance over former conditions in many medical colleges. But the fact that these women find it difficult to secure interneships, is perhaps, due largely to the circumstance that few, if any, hospitals have made provision for housing female internes. Such internes have not heretofore been appearing in large numbers, so the need of necessary housing provisions has not attracted attention. This is the situation at the Freedmen’s Hospital, this city. The housing provisions have all been made for male internes, and although there are now two female internes on duty at this hospital, they have to secure accommodations outside, It is to be hoped that a change in this respect will rapidly follow the increase in the number of female physicians. Sincerely yours, Hubert Work, Secretary.