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Photograph shows Dr. Rosalie Slaughter (1876-1968), co-founder of the American Women’s Hospitals Service, with philanthropist Anne Tracy Morgan (1873-1952), who worked to provide relief in World War I. Photograph shows Dr. Rosalie Slaughter (1876-1968), co-founder of the American Women’s Hospitals Service, with philanthropist Anne Tracy Morgan (1873-1952), who worked to provide relief in World War I. Library of Congress Medicine was one of the first professional battlegrounds where women pushed back against the era’s norms dictating a woman’s proper place. Early Victorian vocation options left much to be desired. When it came to professions, teaching was essentially the only acceptable career. For upper class women, to work was considered an embarrassment to their family; jobs were for women who didn’t have husbands to provide for them. Rosalie Slaughter Morton’s aristocratic father was so scandalized by the thought of his daughter earning money that it wasn’t until after his death that she attended the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1893. Since he left her no inheritance, she used money she’d been saving since childhood and eventually earned degrees to become a physician and surgeon. Florence Nightingale’s family lodged similar objections to her nursing career aspirations. Whenever she brought up the topic with her mother and sister, they reportedly required reviving with smelling salts. Jex-Blake’s father had only permitted her to become a math tutor—if she didn’t accept a salary. Even if a woman had a career before marriage, she was expected to quit upon tying the knot. These stringent societal standards left some women in a special quandary. What if you weren’t planning on marrying a man? How could you support yourself financially? This challenge drove queer women to lead the way in the push to prove their gender could pursue any profession. 19th-Century Women Who Led the Way in Medicine Susan Dimock, Queer Victorian Doctors Who Paved the Way for Women in Medicine American physician Susan Dimock. In 1872 she was appointed resident physician at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston where she immediately organized a training school for nurses, the first of its kind in America. Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis/Getty Images Nineteenth-century doctors Emily Blackwell, Marie Zakrzewska, Lucy Sewall, Harriot Hunt, Susan Dimock, Sara Josephine Baker, and Louisa Garrett Anderson all preferred women (and many of their romantic partners were also physicians). And while there may have been a stigma around women working, some argue there was less societal scorn attached to women loving women. “Such relationships enjoyed a level of acceptance greater than what many experience today,” historian Arleen Tuchman writes in her biography of Marie Zakrzewska. Tuchman says that, in her writings, Zakrzewska “blurred the line between conventional marriage and same-sex relationships with great confidence and ease, providing further evidence that the anxieties that would surface later in the century about lesbians were not yet present.” Tuchman also believes our modern preoccupation with whether these partnerships were sexual, “reveals more about our own understanding of companionship and intimacy than that of women in the past.” Women’s Hospitals Fulfill a Need English-born Dr. Emily Blackwell, c. 1860, one of the first women to practice surgery on a major scale. English-born Dr. Emily Blackwell, c. 1860, one of the first women to practice surgery on a major scale. MPI/Getty Images Blackwell and Zakrzewska were among the first women in the United States to earn M.D.s, in 1854 and 1856, respectively. Together with Blackwell’s sister Elizabeth, they established a women’s hospital in New York. It was forever expanding, never quite big enough to accommodate all the women who wished to be treated there. Later, they added a women’s medical college to their offerings. Blackwell met Elizabeth Cushier when she became a student at her college. Cushier then began working alongside Blackwell at her hospital. “I do not know what Dr. Emily would do without her. She absolutely basks in her presence; and seems as if she had been waiting for her for a lifetime,” a colleague gushed of Cushier. Blackwell and Cushier raised an adopted daughter together. By the time Blackwell closed the college in 1899, 364 women had earned M.D.s there. In 1981, Blackwell’s hospital relocated and merged with another institution. It’s now known as the New York-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital. Soon after establishing the New York women’s hospital, Zakrzewska went to Boston to repeat the experiment. In 1862, she opened the New England Hospital for Women and Children. That same year, Julia Sprague moved into Zakrzewska’s home, and they soon began a relationship that lasted until Zakrzewska’s death 40 years later. Women flocked to her hospital, which was one of the first in the country to institute sanitation and sterilization protocols. Boston’s top physicians were agog at its singular success in preventing the spread of disease. Before sterilization was standard, a visit to the hospital could leave patients sicker than before. Zakrzewska’s hospital remains open as the Dimock Community Health Center. When Jex-Blake visited the Boston hospital, she met resident physician Lucy Sewall and the two started to plan a life together. Those plans were interrupted when Jex-Blake’s father died, forcing her to return to the U.K. Like Blackwell, she finally found lasting love with a former medical student-turned fellow physician: Margaret Todd. By establishing women’s medical colleges and hospitals, these 19th-century pioneers helped open the profession of medicine to women. One of the biggest hurdles for women medical students at the time was finding a place to receive practical training and internships, and then a job. Most establishments invariably turned women away. These hospitals filled that need. By the end of the 1800s, some new terms had emerged in the English language: “new woman,” to describe educated, independent career women, “Boston marriages,” to describe two professional women sharing a home, and “sapphist,” to describe women who loved women. By pursuing careers, toppling norms and offering their personal roadmaps as examples, these women ensured others like them could flourish both in their private and professional lives. TAGSPRIDE BY OLIVIA CAMPBELL Olivia Campbell’s work has appeared in The Guardian, Washington Post, Scientific American, New York Magazine, and Smithsonian. Her first book, Women in White Coats: How the First Women Doctors Changed the World of Medicine, was published in March 2021 with HarperCollins/Park Row Books.