Doctor or Doctress?

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Eliza Anna Grier was an African American woman who graduated from Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP) 1n 1897. In 1890, while still a student at Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee, Grier wrote to WMCP to inquire about the annual cost of attending school there.

Why It Matters

In her letter to WMCP, Eliza Grier explained that she had been attending Fisk for seven years, presumably because she was “working for every dollar.” Grier, an African American, expressed her desire to be a physician and help those of her race as well as all of her “fellow creatures,” but also expressed the fear that she would not be able to afford medical school. She noted the lack of African-American women in the medical profession, citing cost and “timidity” as contributing factors. Demonstrating no such timidity herself, Grier directly asked how one might receive help paying for a medical education. Sparing no details, she stated her situation bluntly: she was an emancipated slave with no money.

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Analyze this evidence

  • What information is Grier seeking by writing this letter?
  • How long has Grier been at Fisk University? How has she been paying for it?
  • What reasons does Grier give for wanting to become a physician?
  • According to Grier, what are some of the reasons that so few black women become physicians?

Listen to this document read aloud

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Dear Friend, It is with some hesitation that I attempt to write you, but I believe you will at least read my letter if you do not have time to think of what I am about to say. I am a Negro woman – a fair representation of my race. I have been attending this school for seven years and God willing it, I hope to complete the Advances Normal course of study here next June. I desire to be of the most possible benefit to my race and to my fellow creatures. I think I can accomplish more by having a medical education. Few of our colored girls have dared to enter the Medical Science I presume for several reasons: on account of timidity and on account of means whereby to pursue such a course. I have no money and no source from which to get it, only as I work for every dollar. I desire a thorough medical education and I desire to enter the school to which I write now or some other good school. What I want to know from you is this, How much does it take to put one through a year in your school? Is there any possible chance to do any work that would not interfere with one’s studies? Do you know of any possible way that might be provided for an emancipated slave to receive any help into so lofty a profession? If you cannot do otherwise, then give me a chance – a fair chance, I will begin with that. I have another matter in connection with of which I wish to speak when I shall have received an answer from you. Please let me hear from you at once or as soon as you have had time to think. I am yours truly Miss Eliza A. Grier