While making applications to the different medical colleges of Philadelphia for admission as a regular student, I enlisted the services of my friends in the search for an alma mater. The interviews with the various professors, though disappointing, were often amusing.
Called on Dr. Jackson (one of the oldest professors in Philadelphia), a small, bright-faced, gray-haired man, who looked up from his newspaper and saluted me with, “Well, what is it? What do you want?” I told him I wanted to study medicine. He began to laugh, and asked me why. Then I detailed my plans. He became interested, said he would not give me an answer then—that there were great difficulties, but he did not know that they were insurmountable; he would let me know on Monday. I came home with a lighter heart, though I can hardly say hope. On Monday, Dr. Jackson said he had done his best for me, but the professors were all opposed to my entrance. Dr. Horner advised me to try the Filbert Street and Franklin schools. A professor of Jefferson College thought it would be impossible to study there and advised the New England schools.
Felt gloomy as thunder, trudging round to Dr. Darrach. He is the most noncommittal man I ever saw. I harangued him, and he sat a full five minutes without a word. I asked at last if he could give me any encouragement.
“The subject is a novel one, madam, I have nothing to say either for or against it; you have awakened trains of thought upon which my mind is taking action, but I cannot express my opinion to you either one way or another.”
“Your opinion, I fear, is unfavorable.”
“I did not say so. I beg you, madam, distinctly to understand that I express no opinion one way or another; the way in which my mind acts in this matter I do not feel at liberty to unfold.”
“Shall I call on the other professors of your college?”
“I cannot take the responsibility of advising you to pursue such a course.”
“Can you not grant me admittance to your lectures, as you do not feel unfavorable to my scheme?”
“I have said no such thing; whether favorable or unfavorable, I have not expressed any opinion, and I beg leave to state clearly that the operation of my mind in regard to this matter I do not feel at liberty to unfold.” I got up in despair, leaving his mind to take action on the subject at his leisure.
The fear of successful rivalry which at that time often existed in the medical mind was expressed by the dean of one of the smaller schools, who frankly replied to the application, “You cannot expect us to furnish you with a stick to break our heads with,” so revolutionary seemed the attempt of a woman to leave a subordinate position and seek to obtain a complete medical education. A similarly mistaken notion of the rapid practical success which would attend a lady doctor was shown later by one of the professors of my medical college, who was desirous of entering into partnership with me on condition of sharing profits over five thousand dollars on my first year’s practice.
During these fruitless efforts my kindly Quaker adviser, whose private lectures I attended, said to me, “Elizabeth, it is of no use trying. You cannot gain admission to these schools. You must go to Paris and don masculine attire to gain the necessary knowledge.” Curiously enough, this suggestion of disguise made by good Dr. Warrington was also given to me by Dr. Pankhurst, the professor of surgery in the largest college in Philadelphia. He thoroughly approved of a woman’s gaining complete medical knowledge, told me that although my public entrance into the classes was out of the question, if I would assume masculine attire and enter the college, he could entirely rely on two or three of his students to whom he should communicate my disguise, who would watch the class and give me timely notice to withdraw should my disguise be suspected.
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