What student life was like at one of the world's first medical schools for women: 5 takeaways

While 2017 marked the first year more women enrolled in medical school than men, the tendency to discriminate against female medical practitioners has existed for decades. Documents and records dating back to the mid-19th century show women at one of the world's first medical schools for women were often bullied and harassed by their male peers for pursuing a career in the medical field.

Records from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, which was founded in 1850, depict the type of harassment women endured on a daily basis, according to Atlas Obscura.

Here are five takeaways regarding women's daily lives at WMCP.

1. Anna Broomall, MD, a graduate of WMCP, said during an interview later in her life she and her female classmates attended a lecture at the affiliated teaching hospital and, upon entering, endured jeers and taunting from their male counterparts, according to the report.

"When we turned up at the clinic, in what was then the new amphitheater, pandemonium broke loose," Dr. Broomall said. "The [male] students rushed in pell-mell, stood up in the seats, hooted, called us names and threw spitballs, trying in vain to dislodge us."

2. However, the medical college's founders fervently believed in the importance of women's education, arguing the idea "that the exercise of the healing art, should be monopolized solely by the male practitioner … can neither be sanctioned by humanity, justified by reason, [nor] approved by ordinary intelligence," according to the report.

3. Several newspapers nationwide opposed the notion women can and should practice medicine. An editorial from the Boston Journal stated, "the needle [serves as] a much more appropriate weapon in the hands of woman than the scalpel."

4. Despite incidents similar to that described by Dr. Broomall, women continued to attend clinical lectures and other hands-on learning activities, according to Joanne Murray, director of the Philadelphia-based Drexel University College of Medicine Legacy Center Archives and Special Collections.

"Women students learned through dissecting human cadavers as well, which of course was and is considered a rite of passage for medical students," said Ms. Murray. "But in the 19th century it was seen as a practice that women should not be undertaking. … [However,] the students generally valued the experience and even boasted about it to friends and family."

5. Ms. Murray said female students also engaged in clinical instruction at the Woman's Hospital of Philadelphia once it opened in 1861. They received hands-on training treating a variety of medical conditions including measles, typhoid fever and tuberculosis.

To access the full report, click here.

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