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Centennial of 19th Amendment: Women and Rush Medical College, 1920 (Part 1)

by Nathalie Wheaton on 2020-08-13T08:32:00-05:00 in Archives | 0 Comments

The Rush Archives encourages Rush staff and students to join Rush’s Women’s Leadership Council for a special panel discussion, Tuesday, August 18, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm, celebrating the centennial of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. The amendment, ratified August 18, 1920, declared, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Link to recorded panel presentation.

This month, the Rush Archives will look back at the roles of women in 1920 at our predecessor institutions, including Rush Medical College, Presbyterian Hospital, and St. Luke’s Hospital.

Today’s post will focus on women at Rush Medical College in 1920, both women faculty and students, and what the school was like for them at the time. Learning about these women and their experiences can help us understand just how significant the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment was a hundred years ago.

CAPTION:  The Class Composite Photograph, Rush Medical College, Class of 1920, provides some perspective on the makeup of the class.

If you're interested in a deep dive and further information on this topic, my presentation, “Lady Doctors: Women Physicians at Rush, 1900-1920,” is available online here:

A very brief timeline regarding women at Rush Medical College:

•    1898: First woman joins the faculty of Rush Medical College. (Effa V. Davis, MD, demonstrator of obstetrics) [Click link for more information on Dr. Davis.] 
•    1902: First women accepted to Rush Medical College as medical students. (First women graduates, 1903)
•    1915: The American Medical Association formally accepts women as members.

So, that brings us to Rush Medical College in 1920. The women faculty and students in the above photo did not yet have the right to vote. Consider the following facts, which reflect the roles of women in medicine throughout the United States at that time:

In 1920, there were no women in leadership positions at Rush Medical College.

In 1920, all of the Rush Medical College Board of Trustees and the vast majority of faculty were men. 

In 1920, the Alumni Association of Rush Medical College was led by all men and their annual reunions were attended almost exclusively by male alumni.

Rush Medical College was affiliated with the University of Chicago, 1898-1941. In 1920, Rush Medical College students attended courses on the University of Chicago campus for their freshman and sophomore years. Their third and fourth years were spent on the Rush Medical College campus, gaining clinical experience. During this time period at Rush Medical College, a fifth year internship with an approved medical institution was a requirement for graduation. 

Rush Medical College, Class of 1920:
CAPTION: Here is the enrollment for Rush Medical College in 1920 with each class broken down by numbers of men and women*.

In the class composite photograph for the Class of 1920, you'll see that there is only one woman’s photograph among the RMC faculty at the time, anesthetist Isabella Herb, MD. Although she was not the first woman on the Rush Medical College faculty, she was the first woman to join the staff of Presbyterian Hospital, Rush Medical College's teaching hospital, in 1909. To learn more about Dr. Herb, please visit this blog post:

CAPTION: Isabella C. Herb, MD, among the faculty of Rush Medical College, in the 1914 Class Composite Photograph.

To peruse photos and information about each graduate in the Class of 1920, explore the Bulletin of the Alumni Association of Rush Medical College, May 1920:

This issue also includes information on Presbyterian Hospital's Base Hospital 13, which served patients during World War I near Limoges, France. It also lists the War Records of Rush Medical College faculty and alumni and Presbyterian Hospital staff during World War I.

*Chart from the Rush Medical College Annual Announcement, 1920-1921:

Want to learn more about the history of Rush or the Rush Archives collections? Explore the Rush Archives website, or contact the archivist, Nathalie Wheaton, MSLS.

Follow us on Twitter: @RushArchives

All documents and photographs belong to the records collections of Rush University Medical Center Archives, Chicago, Ill. Contact the archivist for permissions and full citations.

MORE in this blog series:

Centennial of 19th Amendment: Women and Rush Medical College, 1920 (Part 1) [August 13, 2020]

Centennial of 19th Amendment: Women and Presbyterian Hospital, 1920 (Part 2) [August 18, 2020]

Centennial of 19th Amendment: Women and St. Luke’s Hospital, 1920 (Part 3) [August 25, 2020]

Centennial of 19th Amendment: Women and St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing, 1920 (Part 4) [August 27, 2020]



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