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1847 - 1870


First recorded mention of women requesting admission to Harvard Medical School appears in the June 12 Medical Faculty Records: "a verbal communication was made in which it was asked if a woman might be admitted to the medical lectures and to an examination for the degree." A special meeting of the President and Fellows of Harvard College on August 14 concludes that "the corporation do not deem it advisable to alter the existing regulations of the Medical School, which imply that the students are exclusively of the male sex." The Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College.


Harriot Kezia Hunt writes to Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes on December 12 asking permission to attend "medical lectures at the Massachusetts Medical College." Despite having practiced in Boston since 1835 as a female physician she expressed doubts that she would succeed in being admitted. In her 1856 autobiography Hunt states, "I knew it required more magnanimity, more freedom, more generosity, and a deeper sense of justice, than I supposed existed at Harvard, to acknowledge by such a step, that mind was not sexual." The corporation's reply was to the point. At a December 12 meeting of the President and Fellows of Harvard College, "It was voted, that it is inexpedient to reconsider the vote of the corporation, of the 14th of August, relative to a similar request."

"The facts are on record - when civilization is further advanced, and the great doctrine of human rights is acknowledged, this act will be recalled, and wondering eyes will stare, and wondering ears will be opened, at the semi-barbarism of the middle of the nineteenth century." - Harriot Kezia Hunt, MD


Elizabeth Blackwell is the first woman to enroll in a U.S. medical school. She enters the Geneva (NY) Medical College and graduates in 1850.


Samuel Gregory opens the Boston Female Medical College (later known as the New England Female Medical College), the first medical school for women in the world. Twelve women enroll in the first class and graduate in 1850.


The First National Women's Rights Convention is held in Seneca Falls, New York.


The expanding feminist crusade, and Elizabeth Blackwell's recent graduation may have encouraged Harriot Hunt to again apply to Harvard. On November 23, the medical faculty votes five to two that she be admitted to the lectures "provided that her admission be not deemed inconsistent with the statutes." The corporation's vote is also affirmative, stating they "perceive no objection arising from the Statues of the Medical School to admitting female students to their lectures, expressing hereby no opinion as to the claims of such students to a Medical degree." Before she can attend her first lecture, the medical students meet to protest her admission and that of three Black students. The school retreats in the face of the student protests and the "leading members of the faculty" meet privately with Hunt and persuade her not to attend the lectures.


American Civil War. 1862: Marie Zakrzewska, MD founds the New England Hospital for Women and Children.


Lucy E. Sewall, MD, and Anita E. Tyng, MD, of the New England Hospital Staff apply for admission to Harvard. Sewall had graduated from New England Female Medical College and Tyng was a graduate of Philadelphia's Women's Medical College. They are politely informed by Dean Shattuck that no provision has been made or exists for the education of women in any department of the University.


Susan Dimmock and Sophia Jex-Blake, students at New England Hospital, request admission to Harvard. Their application is turned down by a vote of seven to one of a Committee of the Faculty. They persist and reapply in 1868. Jex-Blake even manages to get three women medical students to join her in attending the lectures of Dr. Hasket Derby at the medical school. The medical staff responds by informing the President that, "this faculty do not approve the admission of any female to the lectures of any professor".


Elizabeth Blackwell founds Women's Medical College of the New York Infirmary.

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A community of women and men who strive to make the working environment better for all.


The Joint Committee on the Status of Women

Harvard Medical School /
Harvard School of Dental Medicine
25 Shattuck Street, Room 206
Boston, MA 02115
Tel: 617.432.0719