Women’s Biology Does Not Prevent Them From
Getting An Education or Practicing Medicine
by Diana McCollum
March 15, 2022
We are celebrating women in history this month.
I’m writing about a woman I found fascinating. Someone I’d personally never heard of or read about. I would like to base a character in a future book on this spunky woman.
MARY PUTNAM JACOBI was born on August 31, 1842, she worked and educated herself as a physician, author, scientist, activist, educator, and perhaps most importantly, a steadfast advocate of a women’s right to be trained in the medical field and to practice medicine.
Men in medicine claimed that a medical education would make women physically ill, and that women physicians endangered their profession. Jacobi worked to prove them wrong.
As a young girl, Mary wanted to go to medical school. Her parents were not thrilled with this idea and even offered to give her the university tuition money if she did not attend.
Mary went to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in the early 1860’s. Upon graduating she went to Paris and lobbied to be admitted to Ecole de Medecine and was the first woman awarded a spot in the prestigious school.
Think about it, this was early 1860’s, during the Civil War!
There were some ridiculous rules to follow in France such as: She had to use a different door than the male students; and she had to sit near the professor.
She had many achievements in her life time. The most impressive to me was her work in challenging Edward Clarke, MD, a professor at Harvard, who wrote “Sex in Education” and “A Fair Chance for Girls”, published in 1873.
The books basically said exerting oneself while menstruating is dangerous. Therefore educating women is dangerous. For a woman’s own safety she should not pursue higher education. The womb is at stake.
Edward Clarke, MD, personal quote:
“There have been instances, and I have seen such, of females . . . graduated from school or college excellent scholars, but with undeveloped ovaries. Later they married, and were sterile.”
He explains this by saying: “The system never does two things well at the same time. Menstruation and the brain cannot functionate in their best way at the same moment.” These quotes are from his aforementioned books.
Administrators and faculty opposed to women pursuing higher education used these books to back up their views. Remember this is the 1800’s.
Watch out! Women should not strive for higher education the womb is at stake!
Thank goodness courageous Mary Putnam Jacobi, MD, graduate of not one, but two medical schools decided to prove Edward Clarke, MD, wrong.
She documented her findings with surveys, charts, tests on women before during and after periods. Mary’s scientific research backed up her findings and could not be disputed by her male colleagues. Three years after Edward Clarke, MD, published his books, his theories were disproved by Mary.
She went on to write 120 medical articles and nine books.
Mary married Abraham Jacobi and they had three children. One died at birth and one child died at seven yrs. old. One reached adulthood.
Abraham Jacobi, now days is known as “The Father of American Pediatrics”.
In her sixties Mary was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She documented the diseases progress and took intense notes of her symptoms. These were published as “Meningeal Tumor Compressing the Cerebellum From which the Writer Died”, written by herself. Mary died June 10, 1906, she was sixty-four.
Mary was a fascinating person and she led an incredible life. I definitely want to create a character with her qualities.
Hm-m-m? I better get started!
Diana McCollum enjoys weaving elements of paranormal, and fantasy into her stories. She always ends with a Happily Ever After, because she must for her own satisfaction! Her hope is to take you away from your everyday life for a journey that is both entertaining, and fun, and sometimes a little scary. When Diana is not reading or writing, she is a fisherwoman, enjoys hiking, tole-painting, jewelry making, coffee dates with other writers, and hanging out in book stores.