Doctor or Doctress?

Explore American history through the eyes of women physicians

National History Day

National History Day 2019-2020 — Student and Teacher Resources

Doctor or Doctress has a number of rich, interesting topics and resources that work well with the 
2019-2020 NHD theme: Breaking Barriers in History

Learn more about the 2019-2020 theme at »


NHD topic ideas for 2020:

  • Two Women Break through the Medical Fields Barriers of Race, Gender, and Social Standing
    In 1897, Eliza Grier and Matilda Evans both graduated from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania. As black women, they faced hardships in both gender and racial discrimination to earn their degrees and establish themselves as physicians. After receiving their medical degrees, both Grier and Evans set up practices in South Carolina. Through their endeavors they were harassed, contested, and eventually acknowledged. Though they diverged into different paths, both women managed to achieve success in their field. Primary sources & background »
  • Breakthrough in the Civil War: Mary Walker's Experiences As a Female Surgeon on the Battlefield
    Among the first generation of women physicians, Dr. Mary Walker led a dramatic career on a number of battlefronts. She served as a surgeon for the Union Army during the Civil War, where she was captured and held as a prisoner of war. President Andrew Johnson awarded Walker the Medal of Honor for her service, but it was later revoked in 1917. After breaking through discrimination, and following the war, Dr. Walker's life was marked by her activism, and ardent push for women's dress reform. Primary sources & background »
  • The Women of World War I : Broken Barriers and Saved Lives
    During the intense and unprecedented fighting of World War I, U.S. women were barred from serving as official army doctors. Determined to serve, a group of female physicians established the American Women's Hospitals (AWH) as an alternative method for assistance in the war. While serving in France, the AWH provided essential medical care to French civilians in areas devastated by war. Primary sources & background »
  • Strengthening the Country by Building Up Ourselves: Media Representation for The American Women’s Hospital in Appalachia
    Amidst the financial and social devastation of the Great Depression, many rural, isolated communities struggled to keep themselves healthy. In these areas, public health relief efforts like those conducted by the American Women's Hospitals (AWH) were critical. As the AWH strengthened the Appalachia community, they met the geographic and public health challenges and managed to obtain media representation for their organization. Through public health initiatives, the AWH successfully displayed educational information in public places, presented educational lectures, built clean and safe latrines and wells, promoted maternal health, and launched an aggressive nutrition education campaign. Primary sources & background »
  • Breaking Barriers as a Black Woman Doctor
    Throughout the 20th century, African American women who became doctors had trouble finding work. Many created their own opportunities and became dedicated and caring service leaders in their communities. As many women broke the barriers of race in the medical field, others worked together in collaboration to diminish racial separation, prejudice in the medical field, and job opportunities. Primary sources & background »

This year's NHD suggestions selected & described by our intern and longtime NHD competitor Caren Teague!

In addition to these suggested topics, explore all of our Digital Collections on Women Physicians, with free online access to 1000s of items, including images, correspondence, scrapbooks, clippings, college records, diaries, and ephemera documenting the history of women.

If you are in the Philadelphia region and want to visit, we welcome students and teachers to use and tour our archives.  For students and teachers, we are open evenings by appointment.

For all teachers and classrooms, we can offer no-cost video chat services like research assistance, virtual classroom visits, and live video tours. Contact us to make arrangements and learn more!

Email us at if you have any questions.