Women in Medicine in the United States: It Began in Hamorton

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Chris Densmore, Curator, Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College


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In 1846, Dr. Bartholomew Fussell, held a meeting in Hamorton to develop a plan for a medical college for women.  The idea was revolutionary. No woman had ever received the M.D. degree. The proposal was in 1850 with the creation of the Female Medical College of Philadelphia, the first school in the United States to offer the M.D. degree to women.  The meeting included Dr. Edwin Fussell, his nephew, Dr. Franklin Taylor, a cousin and traveling companion to Bayard Taylor, Dr. Ezra Michener of London Grove, Dr. Sylvester Birdsall and Dr. Ellwood Harvey.  All were from Kennett and vicinity, and most have been identified with strong connections to the Underground Railroad or the Anti-Slavery Movement.  Also present was Dr. Fussell’s sister-in-law, Graceanna Lewis.

Rebecca Lewis Fussell and Ann Preston were among the early graduates of the Medical College.  The meeting at Dr. Fussell’s home demonstrates the close relationship between the anti-slavery movement, women’s rights and reform. The idea of women doctors was at this time considered a radical reform. It also demonstrates the impact of the reformers of Kennett Square and vicinity on American history.