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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Do You Want To Be A Doctor?

Post by copyright Doris McCraw

Susan La Flesche Picotte

Becoming a Doctor

It's the 1800s and you decide that being a doctor is the career path for you. So how do you go about it. In the nineteenth century there were a couple of ways to get your MD. You could pay another doctor to 'read' medicine or go to medical school. If you were a women, medical school might not be an option in the early part of the century, although studying with a doctor could still be an option, if you found one who would accept you.

That changed in 1849 when Elizabeth Blackwell graduated from Geneva Medical College in New York state. Additional information on this pioneer reformer can be found at: 


Of course there is Harriot Kezia Hunt who has had a practice in Boston since 1835, but not with a college MD. She applied to Harvard in 1847, same year that Blackwell applied to Geneva. For more:

On a side note, there is some evidence that Great Britain had a female doctor as early as 1812, but she dressed as a man all her adult life. If you wish to know more about Margaret Ann Bulkley here is the link to a newspaper article:

Medical Schools

In the United States medical schools are two, three or four year options. These schools do not requite a college education before being accepted. So, if you could get accepted you would get your MD within two years or so. The college of your choice might teach one of two forms of medicine, Allopathic or Homeopathic. Osteopathy arrived during the latter part of the 1800s.

University of Iowa College of Medicine Historical Photographs arrowCollege of Physicians and Surgeons, State University, Keokuk, Iowa, 1860

Some schools catered only to women students, but there are a few that are coed. One option might be the Cleveland Womens Medical College for women only or the Keokuk School for Physicians and Surgeons which is coed.


Now that you've decided which school to attend, what are you going to study? Here are the courses of instruction at the College of Homeopathic Medicine and Surgery at the University of Minnesota in 1894.

FIRST YEAR. Embryology, Anatomy, Chemistry, Histology, Physiology, Materia medica, Laboratory work,  History and methodology of medicine

SECOND YEAR. Bacteriology,  Medical jurisprudence, Theory and practice, Clinical medicine, Obstetrics, Diseases of children, Physical diagnosis, Hygiene, Surgery, Clinical surgery, Clinical instruction, Materia medica.

THIRD YEAR. Gynecology, Pathology, Neurology, Opthalmology, Dermatology, Laryngology, Clinical instruction in all branches, Electro-therapy, Otology, Genito-urinary, Orthpsedia, Surgical anatomy.

Now What?

So how are your chances. In 1870 the census states that 525 women are trained as doctors. For more on this:

As you can see, your options have increased greatly since 1849, so how about it? Do you want to be a doctor?

For more information about the women doctors, especially in Colorado, here are links to other posts on the subject.

Finally, on June 11, 2016 the Pikes Peak Library District is having their Annual History Symposium.
You can stream it live at
A preview video can be seen here:

Angela Raines is the pen name for Doris McCraw. Doris also writes haiku posted five days a week at – and has now passed one thousand haiku and photos posted on this blog. Check out her other work or like her Amazon author page:
One Christmas Knight


  1. Hard to imagine a person could become a doctor in less time than it took for me to become an RN. So much has advanced in medicine today that doctors have to specialize in a field--even "family doctors". I remember when family doctors did everything including surgery and deliveries.
    Isn't it amazing how many women became doctors in a time when it wasn't considered an appropriate vocation for world's thinking, naturally. I would not want to be a doctor then or now.
    Loved the blog and the great pictures, Doris.

    1. Sarah,

      I also remember the family doctor. Like you, I'd not like to be a doctor then or now, but the stories I find in my research, priceless. Guess you could say I'm a 'closet' doctor. LOL.

      When it came to education back then, I'm surprised people survived treatment back then. Still, we are a tough lot. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. It means a lot when folks let me know about what I share. Doris

  2. I'm surprised there was even this much for women to become doctors. To them, I'm sure it seemed monumental...but to doctors today? They'd probably scoff at the scant training. I admire all these women. It must have been difficult. Probably families objected. I don't know how many fathers of that day and time would encourage their daughter to become a doctor.
    You did a great job, and I like all the links to more information.

  3. Celia,
    There were actually a fair number of fathers who encouraged their daughters. Dr. Susan Anderson was one, and I believe Mary Helen Barker Bates, whose own father was a physician.

    When you consider that antibiotics, and most medicines were of the 'folk' medicine type, it did surprise me how extensive the training was, even though is seems small compared to today.

    I thank you for the kind words. Since I talk about these women, and write about them, I thought a bit about their education might be in order. SMILE. Doris

  4. Doris,

    I appreciate that you share your research about (and love of) women doctors in history. I've learned a great deal from your articles, and I follow the links you include in order to learn even more. :-)

  5. Kaye,

    Thank you. It came to me, with all my talk about these women, perhaps folks would like to know a bit about what their choices might have been, what they may have studied. I'm very appreciative of your taking the time to read and comment. Enjoy the 'history' lessons in the links. I found them fascinating. Doris

  6. Replies
    1. Thank you Kristy. It came to me, we don't always talk about the 'educational' side of this journey women made while pursuing their dreams. So, I thought I would share some of that research. Doris

  7. Great article, Doris. Thanks. I wonder if we can appreciate just want antibiotics have done for medicine? Most of the surgeries and treatments we consider routine today wouldn't even happen without antibiotics.

    1. You are so correct about antobiotics. When you consider that Alida Avery didn't loose a patient while the physician at Vassar college in the late 1860s, her ability becomes even more amazing.

      Thank you. Doris

  8. Doris, being a nurse for almost forty years I so enjoyed reading your post today--as always delightful and interesting. I live not a half hour away from Geneva, NY and Seneca Falls is right down the road 10 more minutes. So women's history museums, famous buildings and homes are scattered throughout this region. Years ago I wrote a historical romance--desparately needs updating and revising--where my heroine has attended Geneva college to become a doctor. In this area in the mid to late 19th century men esp. were still leery of accepting a woman as an MD so it makes for a really hot and spicey issue to write about their struggles. Must get that out one of these days. I will definitely use the links you sent, so a big thanks. Wishing you the best.

    1. Bev,

      Thank you. It seemed a lot easier on women doctors out West, especially in the areas known for their healing properties, at least from the research I've done on the doctors in Colorado.

      I am so glad the information was useful. I also would love to read the 'updated' book on your women doctor's journey. Best and let me know when you get that story back out.