Women In Medicine

Civil War-Today

Women's Involvement in Medicine During the Civil War

During the 19th century the term “female physician” was a derogatory term. Until Elizabeth Blackwell earned her medical degree in 1849, there were no women physicians, only self-taught lay practitioners, or women who employed folk remedies in their own homes.


Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman doctor in the United States. She helped run the U.S Sanitary Commission that battled diseases and infections.Through her work with nurses, she developed a strong emphasis on preventative care and personal hygiene.

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Sally Louisa Tompkins founded small confederate hospitals and clinics. She was commissioned as a captain in the confederate army so that her hospital could qualify as a military hospital in Richmond, Virginia. Robertson Hospital, subsidized by Tompkins' substantial inheritance, treated 1,333 Confederate soldiers from its opening until the last patients were discharged 13 June 1865.

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Clara Barton cared for wounded on the battlefield, after the Civil War she founded the American Red Cross, which serves disaster victims and others in need. She campaigned for the ability to travel to the field hospitals, which were restricted to male-only staffs by both military regulations and societal mores. She finally received official permission on August 3, 1862.
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Catholic nuns transformed convents into emergency hospitals. They remained neutral and treated all victims of war.


There were at least 3,000 female nurses during the Civil War. By 1900, however, approximately 7,000 women had entered the medical profession. At several medical colleges women comprised at least ten percent of the enrollment, and in some cities, such as Boston, made up as much as eighteen percent of all physicians.

Women's Involvement in Medicine Today

The demand and respect for female physicians is rapidly growing because society is becoming aware of the benefits of female physicians.


The increasing numbers of female patients are seeking and requesting female physicians.This is particularly significant because women make about three fourths of the health care decisions in the United States, and they spend two thirds of health care dollars.
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Although female physicians of the past led the way for women in medicine today, many gender-based issues still exist. 47.7% of female physicians reported experiencing gender-based harassment and 36.9% reported experiencing sexual harassment.


The health care profession, to this date, is essentially sex-segregated, as 84% of physicians are male and 97% of nurses are female.

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Today, the President of The American Red Cross is Gail J. McGovern. She is also on the Board Of Trustees at Johns Hopkins, and was recognized as one of the top 50 most powerful women in corporate America.


McGovern has overseen the American Red Cross response to multiple high-profile disasters across the country and around the world, including the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011, Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

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Today 47% of medical students are female, compared to 10% in the early 1900's.


Today there are about 2,210,400 female nurses, compared to 3,000 during the Civil War.


Today 34% of physicians are female, compared to 4.9% in 1950.


Women in Science and Medicine - Lisa M. Satlin, MD

In Conclusion..

Since the beginning of time women have been healers and self-taught practitioners. Their role during the Civil War strongly influenced others to join the field of medicine. Women have been important to the development of the compassion and intellect of the practice of medicine. Women have woven themselves throughout time in the profession of medicine.