New England Female Medical College

Shannon Patterson


Originally named Boston Female Medical College, the first medical school for women was opened by Samuel Gregory in 1848.  The first twelve women who enrolled in the school graduated in 1850.  In 1856, the college changed its name to the New England Female Medical College (Kreier, 1998).

Historical Contexts of the day

During a period of industrialization and urbanization in 1848, many new ideas were transforming the mental and cultural landscapes of the United States.  Medical schools were exclusively for men.  Although women such as Harriot Kezia Hunt served as family physicians, women were denied their requests to attend medical lectures and examinations.  In 1847, Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to enroll in a United States medical school, entered the Geneva, New York Medical College.  She graduated in 1850 and went on to found the Women’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary in 1868 (matriculation, 2001).  

About New England Female Medical College

Samuel Gregory, a teacher and lecturer with degrees in English from Yale University, was known for his ability to get a rise from his listeners.  His formal medical training consisted of a summer lecture course in anatomy and physiology, and he was not a supporter of women’s rights.  Because of his speculations about the unseemliness of male physicians assisting women during childbirth, he was able to gain support for the establishment of the first female medical college.  Support for opening medical education for women was offered by Lemuel Shattuck, known as the father of public health, and author Harriet Beecher Stowe.  Gregory’s concerns and speculations offended the medical community and the delicacy of the early Victorian middle class.  Although he used his energy and persuasiveness to raise needed funds for the college, Gregory was often in the midst of conflict (Kreier, 1998).

In 1859, Dr. Maria Elizabeth Zalrzewska began teaching at the New England Female College as a professor of obstetrics and diseases of women and children.  She was devoted to medicine and was interested in improving the level of education offered to women at the college.  At this time, the college was essentially a midwifery school. A 20-member Board of Lady Managers raised funds to open the Hospital for Women and Children of the New England Female Medical College (now Dimock Community Health Center).  Dr. Zalrzewska served as the hospital’s director (Bois, 2001). 

Because of conflicts with Gregory, Dr. Zakrzewska and two of the college’s five other professors resigned in 1862.  With fund-raising difficulties given as the reason, the hospital was closed the same day.  However, the hospital quickly reopened at another location and remained under Dr. Zakrzewska’s direction for the next 30 years.

Rebecca Lee Crumper, MD, the first African-American to earn a medical degree, graduated from the New England Female Medical College in 1864.  Mary Harris Thompson, MD, an early graduate of the college, went on to establish the Chicago Hospital for Women and Children (Kreier, 1998).

Dr. Zakrzewska

Gregory continued to raise funds for a hospital adjacent to the New England Female Medical College.  However, he died in 1872, from tuberculosis leaving the college with a mortgage of $27,000. Due to financial difficulties and internal dissension, the college merged with Boston University in 1873 (Kreier, 1998).


Bois, D.  Marie Elizabeth Zakrezewska.  Retrieved October 5, 2001, from

Krier, R. (1998, August 10).  Celebrating women physicians.  American Medical News, Volume 41, Number 30.  Retrieved October 5, 2001, from

The matriculation of women at Harvard Medical School.  Retrieved October 5, 2001, from