History of Medicine
"Elizabeth, it is of no use trying. Thee cannot gain admission to these schools. Thee must go to Paris and don masculine attire to gain the necessary knowledge." (Dr. Joseph Warrington)
Born in England in 1821, Elizabeth moved to America with her family when she was a child. After her father's early death, she took up teaching to help support the family. Elizabeth found the work unpleasant and uninspiring. She craved an occupation that satisfied her intellect as well as her idealistic and religious nature. Then a dying friend confided that her suffering would have been more bearable had she been attended by a woman physician and suggested that Elizabeth had the intelligence and courage to pursue a medical degree. The idea took hold, though the obstacles to its achievement were formidable. Elizabeth lacked money to support her studies and her preparation in science and classical languages were inadequate for admission to a well-established medical school. She also needed to obtain some prior medical experience, which many schools required. To earn money, Elizabeth turned again to teaching and arranged to live in a physician's household, where she received some medical training, the use of a medical library, and the opportunity to study Greek and Latin. However, the most formidable obstacle remained: admission to a medical school.
Physicians in Philadelphia and New York, whose advice Elizabeth sought, were uniformly discouraging. A woman had never been admitted to medical school, the time was not right, she could only succeed disguised as a man. Even liberal-minded physicians, like the Quaker Joseph Warrington, felt that her plan could not be fulfilled. After failing to gain admission to any of the established medical schools, she applied to a dozen smaller colleges. She received a single acceptance, from Geneva Medical College in Geneva, N.Y.
The home of Samuel Henry Dickson, M.D., in Charleston, SC., a prominent physician and founder of the Medical College of South Carolina. Elizabeth lived in his home for a year in order to study medicine under his tutelage and prepare for admission to medical school. (Charleston County Public Library)