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Swoboda, Marian J.; Roberts, Audrey J. / Wisconsin women, graduate school, and the professions

Apple, Rima D.; Leavitt, Judith Walzer
Chapter 6: Women in the medical school,   pp. 55-64

Page 55

6. Women in the Medical School
by Rima D. Apple and Judith Walzer Leavitt
Women have always practiced medicine. They healed their families and
tended their friends throughout history. But they entered the regular medical
profession in the United States only in the middle of the nineteenth century.
The number of women physicians increased through the rest of the century,
peaking in the decade 1900-10. Although women represented a significant
proportion of medical practitioners (in Boston, 18 percent in 1900), they
never achieved more than a minor place in medicine. Their numbers rapidly
declined after 1910. Only recently in the 1970s have they again increased.
Discrimination, overt and covert, obstructed integration of the sexes in
medical profession.
Through the second half of the nineteenth century, women sought accep-
tance into the regular world of medical men. They battled to get into medical
schools, hospitals, and professional organizations; but once in, they found
themselves a small unheard minority that had little or no effect. Women
achieved their greatest triumphs alone. Separate medical schools, training
hospitals, and infirmaries served women well. They were "island[s] of
strength"' that created the atmosphere necessary for learning and achieving.
Women's separation, however, further isolated them from the regular medical
A few state university medical schools accepted women as early as the
1860s.2 But not until the 1890s did women win general acceptance to male
schools. In 1893 Tufts matriculated 25 percent women, increasing to 42 per-
cent in 1900. Women comprised 37 percent of the student body at Boston
University and 31 percent at Kansas Medical School in 1893. As more pre-
viously all-male schools admitted women, the new road seemed promising.
Separate institutions for women closed and women happily sought to inte-
grate themselves into coeducational schools. But the success began to disinte-
grate in the early twentieth century. Either precipitously or gradually most
coeducational medical schools reduced their quota of women to approx-
imately 5 percent in the early decades of the twentieth century. This chapter
examines women's experiences as students and faculty in a twentieth century
coeducational school, the University of Wisconsin medical school at Madison.
Information about women students was gathered from the university
archives, alumni documents and a questionnaire sent to 370 women gradu-
ates and house staff. Approximately 66 percent responded. To insure their
confidentiality, replies are quoted without names, identifying merely the
of graduation. Data was gathered about women faculty from archival material,
budgets, and interviews with nine former and current women faculty members
whose names and positions are not divulged.
The University of Wisconsin medical school opened its doors with a two-
year preclinical program in 1907. In that year, three women matriculated
in a
class of twenty-six.4 Remembering her early years at the University of
Wisconsin, one physician remarked that "the University of Wisconsin
very much ahead of most medical schools in their admission, support and
treatment of women." (1916) This perception accurately reflects the
views of

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