Friday, July 22, 2022

First Woman Doctor in the U.S.

Post by Doris McCraw aka Angela Raines

I'm currently working on a book about the women doctors who are buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs. In the course of looking into the background of women doctors, the name of Dr. Harriot Kezia Hunt has come up more than once. While not necessarily from the west, her practice in Boston, MA. help make possible the women who traveled west to the new frontier. 

Below is a brief biography of this amazing woman.

While Elizabeth Blackwell may have been the first woman to graduate from medical school in the United States, she was not the first woman doctor. Many believe that Dr. Harriot Kezia Hunt, who practiced in Boston Massachusetts in the 1830s, was the first woman doctor in the United States.

She was the first woman to apply to Harvard Medical School, and although initially, she was to be allowed to audit the medical classes, the student body rose in protest so that avenue was denied her. That did not stop Dr. Hunt. After her initial work with another doctor, she continued her studies.

Dr. Hunt began to pursue her studies when her sister Sarah became ill. After many different doctors and diagnoses, Harriet turned her sister's treatment over to an English couple, Drs. Richard and Elizabeth Mott. Elizabeth Mott specialized in treating women and children. As Harriot said in her autobiography, "the doubt, uncertainty, and inefficacy of medical practice had been our portion; and the best positions had given up and only sister!"

Dr. Hunt continued studying with and working beside the Motts until Richard's death and Elizabeth removed to New York. From that point on Harriet continue to build her practice, focusing on women and children.

Hygeia, the Greek goddess of health,
carved by 
Edmonia Lewis c. 1871-1872 for Harriot Hunt's grave

Dr. Hunt was also involved in social reform, specifically abolition of slavery and women's rights, attending the 1850 women's rights convention in Massachusetts.

Dr. Hunt also corresponded with Dr. Blackwell on at least one occasion. Quoting again from her biography Dr. Hunt states, "after my experience with Harvard College, first the professors, then the students who played the same game with different men, it was truly encouraging to hear that Elizabeth Blackwell had graduated at another college, had been to Europe to refer to perfect herself in her profession, and returned to New York to commence her practice. My soul rejoiced — I poured out my feelings in a letter, and gave her the right hand of fellowship; it was acknowledged in an answer worthy of the writer."

In 1853, Dr. Hunt was awarded an honorary degree from the female medical College of Philadelphia.

Dr. Hunt was born on November 9, 1805, and died on January 2, 1875. In recent years more and more information has become available about this dedicated woman. For more information, here are some additional links:

National Park Service - Boston National Historic Park

Center for the History of Medicine - Harvard

Watch for the upcoming book: Under the Stone: 

Mock-up of the Book Cover

Doris McCraw

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