Sue Young Histories

Susan Ann Edson 1823 - 1897

November 21, 2007

edsonSusan Ann Edson 1823-1897\*was one of the very first women to graduate from the Cleveland Homeopathic Medical School, and she received vital support from her male homeopathic colleagues, which was necessary due to the prejudice of orthodox doctors who did not approve of women or of homeopaths (Anne Taylor Kirschmann, [A vital force: women in American homeopathy*](, (Rutgers University Press, 2004). Page 41).

Susan Ann Edson faced similar difficulties in her attempts to study at the homeopathic college in Cleveland in

  1. Although the college was opened to men and women in 1850, only twelve of the 257 graduates by April 1861, were women. Edson was initially refused admission, but allowed to attend lectures after she won a scholarship established by a benefactor of the college.

Edson completed her first year successfully, but the faculty decided not to let her return for the second year of classes. She insisted on returning and graduated in 1854 despite insinuations from the I faculty that the year would not be pleasant if she continued her studies. In 1867 Dr. Beckwith and his supporters voted to bar all women from attending lectures.

Edson graduated from Cleveland Homeopathic Medical College in 1854 and who is one of the earliest women physicians in America , has the distinction of being the first woman physician to an American President. Dr. Edson was a longtime friend and family physician of President James A. Garfield. It was reported that Dr. Edson never left the President’s chamber, except for short sleeps, from the day Garfield was shot, July 2, 1881, until his death on September 19, 1881.

Both Garfield and his wife were particularly sympathetic to homeopathy. His first cousin, and boyhood neighbor, Silas Boynton, was a homeopathic practitioner. In 1875 Garfield asked Boynton to consult with the physicians caring for his dying mother-in-law. In 1881, while living in the White House, Garfield’s wife Lucretia developed malaria, and Boynton was summoned again. Boynton recommended that Mrs. Garfield, who was severely ill, be transferred to the New Jersey seashore, away from the malarious swamps that reached the backyard of the White House.

During Garfield’s final illness, Boynton and another homeopath (Susan Edson) attended Garfield, but as nurses.

Edson worked as a nurse during the Civil War, and afterwards, she helped to organise the Free Homeopathic Dispensary, the National Homoepathic Hospital and the Washington Chapter of the American institute of Homeopathy.


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