Dr. Anandibai Joshi, Dr. Keiko Okami, and Dr. Sabat Islambouli in 1885
July 17, 2015 1:49 PM   Subscribe

This photo depicts Dr. Anandibai Joshi of India, Dr. Keiko Okami of Japan, and Dr. Sabat Islambouli of Syria, three women who became doctors in 1885, at least two the first female physician in their own country, and 36 years after Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States. (All three completed medical school at the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania.) Be sure to click "See More" to read the full post at the first link. (Previously, on the lives of trailblazing women in medicine.)

From PRI's The World: "It was the first women’s medical college in the world, and immediately began attracting foreign students unable to study medicine in their home countries. First they came from elsewhere in North America and Europe, and then from further afield. Women, like [Dr.] Joshi in India and [Dr.] Keiko Okami in Japan, heard about WMCP, and defied expectations of society and family to travel independently to America to apply, then figure out how to pay for their tuition and board... . Besides the international students, it also produced the nation’s first Native American woman doctor, [Dr.] Susan LeFlesche [sic], while African Americans were often students as well. Some of whom, like [Dr.] Eliza Grier, were former slaves."
posted by ocherdraco (20 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
great photo. great story.
posted by blob at 1:51 PM on July 17, 2015

And now women make up 47% of medical school graduates in the U.S.!
posted by gwint at 1:59 PM on July 17, 2015

yay women!
posted by infini at 2:31 PM on July 17, 2015

Oh my god, somebody write this movie, where these pioneers come to the US and have to be fish out of water, women, AND med students. But give it a happy ending where the one girl doesn't die but is cured by her colleagues and goes on to save hundreds of babies.

Also cast Tyne Daly as the Quaker lady and Jane Seymour as the medical college dean.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:43 PM on July 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

Oh my god, somebody [named Eyebrows McGee] write this


*whistles innocently*
posted by ocherdraco at 3:06 PM on July 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

How fantastic!

I got ahold of a children's biography that made me briefly obsessed with Elizabeth Blackwell when I was about eight. She inspired me to try to become the first female major league baseball player. Granted, I hated exercise, was hated in PE, and didn't know the rules of baseball, plus no one at home knew them either. But by God, I wanted to be the first female something, because of Elizabeth Blackwell. Eventually I had to settle for being one of the first girl drummers in the school band.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:22 PM on July 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

I say, I might actually have a first myself, but I have to confirm it before I can claim it.
posted by infini at 3:38 PM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

My alma mater! Halfway, at least. WMC eventually merged with Hahnemann (formerly the homeopathic medical college of Pennsylvania) to form The Medical College of Philadelphia, which was ultimately saved from the Allegheny Health bankruptcy by Drexel.

That's all a little inside baseball but, given that my med school's history otherwise revolves around homeopathy and the largest healthcare bankruptcy in the US, it's good to have a reason to be proud.
posted by The White Hat at 3:43 PM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

I know at least one med school that will have women as 60% of the entering class next year :D.
posted by bobobox at 4:43 PM on July 17, 2015

Which is that bobobox? I'm very curious.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:13 PM on July 17, 2015

you know...i love the story...it's great...1885 is very early to make those kind of progressive leaps, but the amount of progress socialist/left-leaning 3rd world countries made in educating their own women dwarfs america's contribution to elevating women in 3rd world countries.
posted by brainimplant at 5:32 PM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Another US pioneer was the English nurse Alice Fisher, mentored by Florence Nightingale, who came to Philadelphia in the nineteenth century and reformed the Blockley Almshouse/Philadelphia General Hospital. She is buried in West Philadelphia in the Woodlands Cemetery.
posted by carter at 5:47 PM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also here is the archives for Drexel University College of Medicine and its predecessor institutions, including Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania (W/MCP) and Hahnemann University. They have some digital collections, for instance some background on Eliza Grier and Matilda Evans.
posted by carter at 5:52 PM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

The prologue-montage shows a young Ana (Anandabai Joshi), aged up to about 14, marrying a man about 20 years her senior because her family can not afford their debts. To her surprise, her husband is quite progressive, and encourages her in her education. When she is 16, she bears their first child, who dies due to lack of medical care. She and her husband discuss, tearfully, how there are no doctors available to care for women due to gender segregation and caste issues and she wishes that women could attend the medical college in Bombay. Her husband goes to secure her admission while she is grieving, but is rebuffed. A kindly doctor (who maybe was prevented from helping Ana by social norms and mean other doctors) pulls him aside after the administrators laugh him out of their office. "There is one place women may learn to be doctors," he says in Hindi. "In America. In Pennsylvania. Take Ana there."

Cut to Keiko Okami in Japan. We see her teaching English to Japanese children. She goes home; her mother is the local midwife. Keiko's mother is paging through an old, battered anatomy book, studying the diagrams (labeled in German). She is trying to figure out what went wrong at a local birth, where mother and baby survived, but barely. "If only I knew more!" her mother rues. The next day, Keiko's sees in the English-language newspaper they receive at the mission that the Quakers have opened a medical college for women in America, and immediately begins to write a letter.

Sabat Islambooly (a Kurdish Jew, from the little mentioned in the links) has a scholarly father and two older brothers studying to be doctors. She wants to be a doctor, but there is no school that will accept women. Her father comes home one day with a story from a Hebrew-language newspaper. "Find your English books, Little Flower, and study hard" he tells her. "I have sold two goats, and you are going to America." She throws her arms around his neck with a cry of joy.

Susan La Flesche, a young teenager on the Omaha reservation, witnesses her brother die when a white doctor refuses to care for him. "He needs help!" she argues. "You're the only doctor here!" "I didn't go to Harvard to treat redskins!" the offended doctor replies, as if that explains everything. "You took an oath!" Susan shrieks at him. "Madam, no doctor within 500 miles is going to touch your brother. Good day." Susan comforts her brother as he dies, and swears to him that SHE will become a doctor so there will be one to treat their people. Montage of her poring over books while her hairstyles get more adult, and then we see her reading an acceptance letter to medical school and riding east across the Great Plains on a steam train, dressed in very very proper Victorian traveling clothes, headed for:

Screen Title
Philadelphia, 1880
The City of Brotherly Sisterly Love

We see the women traveling and arriving; Ana and her husband together on a ship to Southhampton and then Philadelphia; Keiko with a Christian missionary group across the Pacific and then by train; Sabat from Jewish community to Jewish community across the Middle East and Europe to Rome, from where she sets out with an emigrant family to Philadelphia, where her father has arranged for her to board with a local Ashkenazi rabbi. Ana and her husband find a tiny back-street house in a black section of Philadelphia, and her husband takes some kind of sort-of demeaning job that Brahmins could still do; Keiko boards in the nursing dormitory and is constantly mistaken for a nurse; Susan has a distant elderly aunt in Philly. As they arrive in the city, we see the best and worst of America through foreigners' eyes -- a free and boisterous city, noisy and dirty, with loud-talking and laughing and happy Americans, and sideways looks and spat racial slurs. They are welcomed to the school by Jane Seymour (Dr Quinn Medicine Woman mode) and told how hard they will work.

They sit in a lecture hall with the other students for their first class, breathlessly watching the door to meet their first professor. As it swings open, a murmur runs through the room: A dignified, matronly black woman in fearsome Victorian dress, whose presence instantly commands the room, strides confidently in.

"Who's that?" one of the background white students hisses to another.

"Doctor Rebecca Cole -- second Negress to qualify as a doctor, right after the War ended," the first hisses back. "She runs the home for Destitute Colored Women. Everyone's heard of her."

She drops her heavy textbooks on the teaching table with such a loud bang that everyone jumps.

"Before we begin, there is something I must make clear to you," Dr. Cole informs them. "The education you are about to receive is a gift. It is the gift of two thousand years of struggle by men and women who called themselves doctors, a struggle against the demons of sickness and death and pain." The women hang on her every word. "Your education puts you debt to all of those who have gone before you, fighting hand-to-hand against Death and his dominion. It puts you in debt to me. And you will repay this debt to me by treating every person, no matter their race or religion, who comes through those doors. Medicine," she says slowly, emphasizing every word, "has no place for bigots." The room is silent. "If you cannot learn from a Negro, or you cannot treat a Negro, there is no place for you at this school. There is no place for you in this profession. To a doctor, there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male and female; there is only mankind, and you will be called to serve all of mankind." A long pause as the gravity of this charge sinks in. She continues in a lighter tone: "I know most of your daddies must have been abolitionists, or you wouldn't be at a Quaker medical school in Philadelphia." (nervous laughter) "Now, ladies, tell me who you are. Where you're from. And why you want to learn medicine."

Montage of different girls giving their names and where they're from. "Philadelphia; my father's Doctor Jones." "My daddy died in the War, of dysentery." "I -- I really like chemistry." "I was engaged to a doctor, but I liked his books better than I liked him."

"Keiko Okami, from Japan. My mother is the village midwife. There are no woman doctors in Japan. There is no one to do obstetrics. I must change that."

"Anandabai Joshi, from India. My first child died because no doctor would touch me for fear of pollution, because I am a woman. We also -- need a woman doctor, for the obstetrics."

The look at each other, and Keiko bows slightly.

Body of movie where we see the women getting to know each other, first Keiko and Ana, and then the other two. They study together, practice English, go to Susan for help with American customs, celebrate holidays together, and cook each other food, often gathering at Ana and her husband's house. We see a scene about the danger women alone are in when one is assaulted going home after dark after a surgery; she uses her scalpel to cut the guy's face to make him back off. (When she is booked on assault, Jane Seymour bails her out and gives a heart-to-heart talk about the courage of women alone facing a world of men.) A patient refuses to have a "hindoo" doctor; Dean Jane Seymour tells him he will have a Hindu doctor or no doctor. Keiko has an almost-romance with a white doctor, who pulls himself back at the last moment, remembering he is white and she is not. It hurts. There are amusing scenes of blood and viscera flying in faces, and "stomach cancer" turning out to be simple gas (complete with farts). They grow steadily more sure of themselves as they approach graduation. Keiko and Ana compete to deliver the most infants. Little girls watch the woman medical students with looks of awe. Their white classmates are variously friendly, tolerant, and jerky, but grow to respect the four women of color in their classes. Breakthroughs occur when white woman patients thank them profusely, caring only about their help, not their skin. They cook turkeys for Thanksgiving and it goes riotously wrong. They go to a Fourth of July celebration.

Nearing graduation, Ana shares the joyous news that she is pregnant, but near the end of her pregnancy, things take a bad turn. One evening when they are at her house for dinner, she collapses and goes into labor. There is no time to get her to the hospital; the other three girls must deliver the baby. Calm and steady Keiko directs the other two as they do some sort of emergency procedure on Ana, safely delivering the slightly premature baby and saving Ana's life. "Mr. Joshi," Susan says, sticking her head out of the dining room where they've delivered the baby, to where Ana's husband is sitting fearful and despondent, "You have a little girl." She hands him a wrapped cooing bundle and he cries with joy.

They graduate, and depart for the four corners of the world. We see their epilogues while each narrates a letter. "Dear Susan," Tabat writes, "It is unusually cold in Damascus, and we have been battling an influenza ..." "My dearest Ana," Susan writes. We see her working on the reservation and in town, helping Native Americans and whites alike. Setting a broken leg for a miner, we see them smile significantly at each other. "All is the same here on the reservation; the children break their arms falling out of trees and I explain twice a month what glaucoma is. Thank God for Dr. Cole's work on eyes ..." We see a pregnant Ana delivering babies in India ... and then later not pregnant, but coughing. She is 40, and she has developed TB. We see her working until the end, coughing and coughing, and then lying in bed while her six children and her heartbroken (elderly) husband gather around her. Her oldest daughter, nearly 20 now, who was born in Philadelphia, picks up a pen and writes in careful English letters,

"Dear Auntie Keiko, my mother asked me to write you, when she was gone." (The scene switches to Keiko, delivering baby after baby, teaching lectures to women -- and a few men! -- in Japan, slowly aging. We see her lecturing midwives as well as medical students.) "She said to tell you she has delivered 1200 babies, and that she hoped this was enough to keep her ahead of you, but that she feared the Japanese are fearsomely long-lived and you would beat her in the end. Now that mother's illness is over, I am to begin medical school, in Calcutta. She begged me to ask you to pray to your ancestors for my success. My father is comforted by his children, but he misses my mother a great deal. When I am finished with school, I hope to at last come to Japan and meet you again for the first time. With all my heart, I am ... Padma Philadelphia Joshi."

In the last scene, we see an assured young Indian woman, dressed in 1905 Indian traveling clothes and carrying a stethoscope, disembarking in Tokyo before taking uncomfortable conveyances to the countryside. She approaches a doctor's office with the caudecus on a sign outside, and consults the Japanese characters on it to see if they match the ones in her hand. She knocks on the door. It is opened by an elderly Keiko, stethoscope around her neck; we hear a baby crying in the background.

"Auntie Keiko?" Padma asks, tears welling in her eyes. Keiko's face shows startlement; then love; she embraces Padma and we fade to the girls, young and in medical school in Philadelphia, dressed in their native costumes for yearbook pictures, giggling and jostling into position. The photographer shouts, "Hold still!" and a massive 1885 flashbulb flashes. We snap to a photo of the four young women (Susan is now included) in sepia 1885 style. It fades out as a baby's cries turn to laughter.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:35 PM on July 17, 2015 [38 favorites]

Eyebrows, I literally teared up reading that. I feel like I just watched the movie, and loved it, and that's not even my kind of movie. Brava!!!!!!
posted by chocotaco at 7:13 PM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Um, Eyebrows, remember a few days ago when you posted an AskMe about what project you could sink your teeth into and I said you should blog? That. Please. That was fucking beautiful.
posted by third word on a random page at 7:39 PM on July 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

That... was exactly what I needed to read at this moment. Thank you, Eyebrows, that was wonderful.

It's 2:22 AM, and I've returned to the thread because I needed to vent. I had also shared this link on Facebook, before I wrote the post here. A few people commented (one wanted to make sure I'd heard of Elizabeth Blackwell). A couple hours ago, just before I went to bed, I checked Facebook again, and I found this comment (from a grade school classmate) appended to my post:
I want a guy working on me, personally.
A real punch to the gut, considering I'm a woman, and starting medical school myself in less than a month. What am I supposed to do with that? In what world would it have made sense to share that comment on a post celebrating women physicians, on the page of a woman who is herself embarking upon a career as a physician?

Was it a joke? It wasn't funny.
Was it intended to express his personal preference in his own physician? If so, it is at best irrelevant.

I'm baffled, and hurt. It was the last place I expected to find misogyny today, and I'm taking it pretty hard.

So to come back to the thread and find that script summary, filled with wonderful women physicians doing wonderful things... well, it really, really helped.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:40 PM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thank you for the post ocherdraco, it made me proud to be an Indian woman born in March who'd fought her own fight to study science and engineering.
posted by infini at 1:36 AM on July 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

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