Thursday, June 2, 2011

Woman's Medical College of St. Louis

Woman's Medical College of St. Louis
Woman's Medical College of St. Louis

Location: Initially at 1414 Lucas Place, St. Louis, Missouri, USA. In 1893 the College moved to a building at the northeast corner of 16th and Pine Streets.

Founded: Incorporated in 1891, with school opening in September 1892

Closed: 1896

The Woman's Medical College of St. Louis was the first "orthodox" school west of the Mississippi exclusively for the medical education of women. It offered classes for just four years before closing in 1896 due to a lack of funding.

Previously, a "homeopathic" medical school for women, the WOMEN'S Medical College of St. Louis, had opened in 1883, but it lasted but a year. That institution came into being when the faculty of the Homeopathic Medical College of Missouri--which had started granting degrees to women in 1874--decided that medical education should be segregated by sex because coeducation endangered a woman’s "sense of modesty and innate purity." However, they did not require the transfer of students who had already matriculated at the Homeopathic Medical College. When a woman, Alice B. McKibben, was elected valedictorian at the co-educational Homeopathic Medical College the following spring, the argument for single-sex schools lost its strength and the Women’s Medical College closed.

On the western side of the state of Missouri, the Woman’s Medical College of Kansas City opened in 1895--three years after her St. Louis sister counterpart-- and graduated its first class the following year. The Kansas City college was also short-lived, closing in 1903.

As Martha R. Clevenger has demonstrated, the Woman's Medical College of St. Louis came into being amidst a great deal of hostility from the (male) orthodox medical establishment. Also observe the coded lesbian-baiting attacks on women physicians, that they were "men clothed in women's bodies" or "mistakes of nature" and therefore, by implication, not real (heterosexual) women:

This medical college was founded for the express purpose of preserving the segregation of orthodox medical education. Its first annual announcement gave voice to the conviction that coeducation “incorporated within it inseparable elements that were fatal to success . . .” The opening of this college was only a small concession to women, and was made in the face of strong opposition. In 1892, an editorial in the Medical Mirror, a St. Louis publication, attacked the founding of the Women’s Medical College, charging that “Women are not endowed by nature or art with the qualities, nor can they gain the necessary equipment for making a successful physician.” The same article went on to suggest that women who had proven themselves competent physicians were mistakes of nature, men clothed in women’s bodies, and therefore no argument for the admission of additional women to the medical profession. In 1894, as the first women graduated, the question of internships for women at the St. Louis city hospitals arose. As the Medical Mirror reported, however, “The Board of Health found it inexpedient to admit women to the hospitals as assistant physicians, . . . inasmuch as the admission of women would mark a change from the established order of things,” and would be impossible “without some previous consideration and rearrangement of administrative work.” Women remained excluded from city hospital internships until the 1940s.

Few women ever graduated from the Women’s Medical College. Of those who did, only four appear to have practiced in St. Louis. And only one, Henrietta Borck, was ever admitted to the St. Louis Medical Society, and then only in 1913, nineteen years after her graduation. Another graduate, Ellen Osborne, was never admitted, despite an illustrious career. It was, however, a career that she created for herself. Unlike most woman physicians, she did not limit her practice to the “women’s specialties” or to female patients. An internist and surgeon, and founder of her own surgical and quarantine hospital, she was assisted by other woman physicians, who like her, found staff privileges difficult to obtain at other hospitals. By 1911, the Ellen Osborne Hospital was one of the network of hospitals affiliated with the Barnes Medical College.

Though some university-based medical schools, such as the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins, had been accepting women students for several years during this time period (1871 and 1893, respectively), this liberality was not evident in the State of Missouri. Washington University (in St. Louis) admitted women for the first time in 1918. The University of Missouri-Columbia began accepting women in 1897, graduating the first woman in 1900. St. Louis University did not admit women until 1948.

Photo: Woman's Medical College of St. Louis

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