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1871 - 1920


The New England Female Medical College asks if Harvard would adopt the medical college. Harvard refuses the offer. In 1874 the New England Female Medical College is taken under the auspices of Boston University.


Former Harvard Medical School professor and member of the Harvard board of overseers Dr. E.H. Clarke publishes Sex in Education; or, A Fair Chance for the Girls. The vastly popular book talks about possible end results of female education:
"monstrous brains and puny bodies; abnormally active cerebration and abnormally weak digestion; flowing thought and constipated bowels." E.H. Clarke, MD


Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi refutes Clarke in a study entitled "The Question of Rest for Women during Menstruation," which she submits anonymously to the Harvard Medical School Boylston essay contest. Her prize-winning monographs are not published by Harvard, but fortunately Jacobi belongs to the Putnam publishing family, which sees that the book gets into print.


Marian Hovey offers $10,000 to Harvard Medical School "if its advantage can be offered to women on equal terms with men." A prolonged debate among faculty and board ensues. The faculty votes eleven to seven in favor of admitting women "provided a sufficient sum of money can be obtained." $200,000 is suggested as a "proper sum to warrant the Corporation in accepting such a proposal." Women are not admitted. However, President Eliot has shown himself as a supporter of co-education.


Lacking half of the $200,000 necessary for its new building, President Eliot writes to Dr. James Chadwick, "this is just the time to offer a round sum of money to the university in order to procure the admission of women to the medical school." Moving quickly, the New England Hospital Society raises $50,000 in pledges within the year. A letter signed by Marie Zakrzewska, Emily Blackwell and Mary Putnam Jacobi, urges that the money be held in trust until the income of the fund is large enough to cover whatever additional costs might be incurred in the medical education of women. The board of overseers votes to accept the offer, but are forced to reevaluate their decision by threats of mass resignation and sabotage by outraged faculty. In a thirteen to twelve decision the overseers vote that:

"it is not advisable for the University now to give any assurance, or hold out any encouragement that it would undertake the medical education of women by Harvard College at its Medical School."


Edith Varney seeks admission with the aid of Dr. Henry Bowditch. She receives a regretful reply from Harvard University President Eliot "that there is as yet no provision for the medical education of women either in Harvard University or by the Society for Promoting the Collegiate Education of Women." She graduates from Boston University School of Medicine and practices for fifty years.


Johns Hopkins Medical school opens as a co-ed institution. 1893: Women's Medical Journal is started by women physicians from Toledo, Ohio.


Ida Henrietta Hyde, Ph.D., in all probability the first woman to engage in scientific investigation at HMS, in the Department of Physiology.


Radcliffe grants its own doctorate degree, after Harvard refuses for several years to grant women a Harvard Ph.D. 1905: Eight women physicians, all members of the Massachusetts Medical Society and affiliated in some way with New England Hospital, petition the corporation for the admission of women. They are refused.


Ida S. Underhill becomes the first woman librarian at the Harvard Medical School library.


The Division of the Medical Sciences is constituted within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The Medical Sciences will be added to the lists of subjects in which the degree of SD and Ph.D. are given. 1915: American Medical Women's Association is founded.


AMA receives Dr. Sarah Stevenson of Iowa as first woman delegate.


US enters World War I. War ends in 1918.


In an attempt to contribute to the war effort and in response to a dip in qualified male applicants, Harvard votes that, as a war measure, in accordance with the plan outlined by President Lowell, the School arrange immediately to provide medical instruction for women. Radcliffe would offer the MD. A number of male students react with a petition stating...

"whenever a woman proved herself capable of intellectual achievement, the area in question ceased to constitute an honor to the men who had previously prized it."

With only a few weeks between Harvard's announcement and the beginning of the fall semester, twenty women apply; sixteen do not have the college training required of men; three were accepted to other schools and, though they may have preferred Harvard, they are not given the choice; that leaves only one who could enter. Consequently, the administration announces it is abandoning the plan to admit women due to insufficient numbers. The plan is abandoned; however, it allows for women pursuing graduate degrees at Radcliffe to attend some classes at HMS.


Dr. Alice Hamilton is appointed assistant professor of industrial medicine at the Harvard Medical School (later, industrial medicine became a part of the newly separated Harvard School of Public Health). Her appointment comes with three limitations: she is not allowed into the Faculty Club, she is not to participate in the academic processions at commencement, and she is not eligible for faculty tickets to the football games. (In 1995, the US Postal Service dedicated a postage stamp in honor of Alice Hamilton. The Hamilton stamp is a 55¢ stamp.)


Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution ratified women's suffrage.

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