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Daring Women Doctors: Physicians in the 19th Century

Premiered July 2020

Hidden in American history, all women’s medical schools began to appear in the mid 19th century long before women had the right to vote or own property. “Daring Women Doctors” highlights the intrepid, pioneering and diverse women who faced hostility and resistance in their pursuit of medical educations.

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About the Documentary

At this crucial time when women physicians and nurses are contributing significantly to our community’s health, this documentary provides a look at the challenging and illuminating history of 19th century women doctors. Hidden in American history, all women’s medical schools began to appear in the mid 19th century long before women had the right to vote or own property.

“Daring Women Doctors” highlights the intrepid, pioneering and diverse women who faced hostility and resistance in their pursuit of medical educations. This documentary examines how these women physicians greatly impacted their communities around the United States and internationally. It also demonstrates how women doctors exerted a long-lasting influence on the movement towards women’s rights.

If the seeds of women’s rights were planted in the fields of abolition then the shoots of those seeds can be found in the existence of women’s medical colleges. The medical school and the women themselves faced great obstacles. Societally, many considered it wrong if not immoral for women to work outside traditional domestic avenues. Male physicians who taught in the school were boycotted. When they attempted to share lecture halls, female students were harassed by their male counterparts.

Even after graduation, women were refused admittance to medical boards and associations. These women choosing to enter the medical field as equal to men sought to and succeeded in expanding the traditional home and hearth spheres for women. Some women would establish successful private practices, others would choose to be missionaries opening hospitals abroad. In addition, the schools would welcome a diverse group of women, African American, Native American and women from a host of international countries. In becoming pioneers in the medical field these women would alter the perception of women and both directly and indirectly impact the march towards women’s rights and the vote.

Today as we witness the dedication of health care professionals during this pandemic we can reflect on the early days of women physicians and the fortitude they displayed in the 19th century and continue to exhibit today.

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