Did You Know: Pioneering medical women of Western Reserve College

In honor of Women’s History Month, we are highlighting women who made an impact on Case Western Reserve University and their respective fields.

Nancy Talbot Clark
Nancy E. Talbot Clark

Women make up 50.5 percent–a slim majority–of medical students in the United States today. But it took time for women to reach this milestone. In 1850, Elizabeth Blackwell, who graduated in 1849 from Geneva Medical College, was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States. Close behind her were several aspiring women physicians in Cleveland. Nancy E. Talbot Clark (pictured at right) graduated in 1852 from Cleveland Medical College of Western Reserve College, “making her the first female medical graduate of Western Reserve College and the second woman graduate of a co-ed regular (non-sectarian or allopathic) medical college in the entire United States,” according to an article on the pioneering medical women of Western Reserve College written by James Edmonson, chief curator of Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum, for the Dittrick Medical History Center. The college’s dean, John Delameter, also admitted Elizabeth Blackwell’s younger sister, Emily, to Cleveland Medical College during the same era, along with five additional women: Marie Zakrzewska, Cordelia Greene, Sarah Chadwick and Elizabeth Grisel. Nancy, Emily and their colleagues became the second through seventh women in the United States to graduate from medical school, finishing by 1856. The elder Blackwell served as a mentor to the female graduates as they continued their careers beyond Cleveland. While not first, the second through seventh women to finish medical school served as an inspiration to others. Their stories were memorialized in a dissertation written by Linda Lehmann Goldstein: “Roses bloomed in winter: women medical graduates of Western Reserve College, 1852-1856.” Goldstein’s dissertation is available through Case Libraries.

– Contributed by Jacey Kepich, research services librarian, Kulas Music Library