The practice of medicine was a male monopoly. Medical colleges would not admit female students. Practicing physicians rejected all applications from females who wished to serve an apprenticeship in medicine. Examining and licensing boards would not examine and license females. Not until a woman's medical college was established were women admitted to the study of medicine. These facts were true of the allopathic, homeopathic, physio-medical and eclectic schools of medicine in the United States.
The newer school, represented by that established by Nichols and the one established by Trall, admitted female students to their first classes and did not hesitate to graduate women with the degree, Doctor of Medicine. What is more, these women doctors were eagerly received by the people and made an excellent name for themselves. You will not find them listed among the early medical practitioners and, although a number of them graduated with the degree, Doctor of Medicine, before the first woman graduated from the first woman's medical college, no medical historian has yet included them among the first female doctors.
When Graham began his lectures, so great was the public opposition to lectures by a man on subjects of anatomy and physiology, either to mixed audiences or to female audiences, that a call was issued for women lecturers to do this work. Among those who responded to the call was Mrs. Mary Gove. Mrs. Gove not only championed the work of Graham, but was in the forefront of the battle for women's rights, for dress reform and other reforms of her time. In common with all those who opposed established institutions and proposed new and improved ones, she underwent persecution at the hands of the defenders of the old order.
Mary Gove Nichols
In the April 1853 issue of Nichols' Journal, Mary Gove says: "I acknowledge I have been mobbed on account of my dress. Fourteen years ago several persons determined to tar and feather me if I dared to lecture in a certain small city. I thought I was needed there and I went, with solemn conviction, and God gave me favor with the people. I outlived all this ignorance. Still it is true that prejudice was bitter and cruel in those days . . . Years have greatly mended the manner of the mobs, but more than one scamp has felt the weight of my husband's cane in this city."
Mary said: "Women have so long acted, and almost existed, by leave granted by the majority, that they have little idea of independent action. The public puts its mold upon us, and we come out as nearly alike as peas. Our wrists and feet just so small and 'delicate,' our minds just so dull and stupid, our bodies bagged, and our whole lives belittled into 'feminine propriety.' Mind, health, beauty and happiness are all sacrificed to the processes of mold; but, then, woman has the comfort of keeping in her 'sphere,' till her brief and terrible misery is over and she dies out of it."
Mary wrote: "My remedy for all this slavery of women is for her to begin to judge and act for herself. God made her for herself, as much as man was made for himself. She is not to be the victim of man, or false public opinion."
It is true that we must learn to think for ourselves and to stand upon our own two feet. Unfortunately, as she said, "it has been the habit of Americans to carry everything by force of majorities. In the immaturity of man, this must be. Those who are not men and women enough to stand alone must be bolstered up by their fellows and if very weak, by a majority of their fellows. We have become so used to the doctrine that the majority must rule that we forget that it may be a great wrong. Are a thousand tyrants better than one? We seem to forget minority rights altogether."
It is strange that in America, where more people become Protestants, at least as far as civil rights are concerned, by virtue of the very air they breathe, in which there was the beginning of a new and ultraprotestantism--the protest universal--that is, the protest against custom and authority in all things, that there should have existed such violent opposition to the demands made by women that they be permitted to join the human race. What wonder, then, that Mary could ask: "why is my friend or my neighbor, my ruler, my king or my tyrant? If I must wear the same fashion garments that another wears, if my taste, my convenience, my occupation are not to determine for me this question of clothing, what am I but a slave? If I must eat, drink, walk and talk according to the will of others, where is my freedom? My country may have emancipated itself from political interference and rule, but where is individual freedom? The recognition of the right of every human being to individual liberty is the foundation fact of all true human culture."
It is said that fools can ask questions which it takes wise men to answer. It is also true that close upon questionings come answers and, often, the ability to ask a question implies the ability to answer it. When the people boldly put the question: "Why are we to maintain kings and nobles; why are we to give tithes of all we possess; why are we to allow others to think for us, to control our thoughts and actions?" the answer is not far from their lips. In like manner, when the women of the middle of the last century asked why they had to be slaves of fashion and why they should be denied access to the professions, the answers to these questions were already in their possession.
As an example of the demands of women for increased liberty, the move for more healthful and less hampering female attire excited their attention even more than did the demand for the ballot. In 1849 the feminine costume that came to be known as bloomers was designed or invented by Mrs. Elizabeth Smith Miller. The original bloomer reached down to the ankles and was accompanied by a short skirt that reached almost to the knees. The attire was devoid of beauty and never became popular with the women of the period, although many women adopted it and suffered from the hands of the mob for doing so. In their "modesty" the early advocates of woman's rights never dared dream of the short skirts and halters, one-piece bathing suits, bikinis and nudity that are now regular features of woman's attire. The bloomer covered woman's body as thoroughly as did her long skirts, but provided for greater freedom of movement. Mrs. Miller showed a working model of her new dress to Amelia J. Bloomer, a famous advocate of woman's rights. Mrs. Bloomer was so fascinated by the idea of new garments for women that were both "modest" and convenient that she promptly sponsored them. They came to be known by her name rather than that of their inventor.
Almost as active in the demand for woman's rights and in the dress reform movement as Mary Gove, was Harriet N. Austin, M.D., adopted daughter and associate of Dr. James C. Jackson. Dr. Austin, who edited The Laws of Life for a number of years, was one of the early graduates of the American Physiological and Hydropathic College. She was among the first women in the world to receive the degree, doctor of medicine, having received this degree a few years before the women's medical college was established. Dr. Austin was a close personal friend of Clara Barton and Mrs. Barton left, in her own handwriting, a stirring tribute to the sterling qualities and professional abilities of Dr. Austin. Harriet N. Austin was born in Connecticut on August 31, 1826; she retired from active practice in 1882 and died in North Adams, Mass., April 27, 1891.