Sue Young Histories

Sarah Ann Hackett Stevenson 1841 - 1909

January 07, 2008

Sarah Ann Hackett
StevensonSarah Ann Hackett Stevenson 1841 - 1909 was the first woman admitted to the American Medical Association. Stevenson worked alongside homeopaths Frances Willard and Julia Holmes Abbot Smith (Susan B Anthony’s homeopath).

Stevenson was also involved in the Temperance Movement which was supported by the American Institute of Homeopathy, and she worked at the Frances Willard Temperance Hospital, which also employed homeopath Julia Holmes Abbot Smith as Consulting Physician.

Stevenson and Julia Holmes Abbot Smith recruited volunteer women homeopathic, allopathic, and eclectic doctors, as well as nurses from the Illinois Training School for Nurses to staff the clinic, which treated more than three thousand patients during the exposition (World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893).

Stevenson was a founder member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement, alongside Alice Bunker Stockham, Mary Weeks Burnett, Florence Hunt and Odelia Blinn.

Stevenson was also a member of the Women’s Press Organisation and chair of the new Municipal Order League’s Committee on Public Baths.

STEVENSON is the first woman admitted to the American Medical Association. This admission was granted in June, 1876. ”The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin ” of June 2 says:

"The doctors have combined millennial with centennial glories. The largest assemblage of the medical profession ever held in America yesterday honored itself by bursting the bonds of ancient prejudice, and admitting a woman to its membership by a vote that proved that the long-waged battle is won, and that henceforth professional qualification, and not sex, is to be the test of standing in the medical world.

“Looking back over the past fierce resistance by which every advance of woman into the field of medical life was met, yesterday’s action seems like the opening of a scientific millennium.

“It was a most appropriate time and place for the beginning of this new era of medical righteousness and peace. Here, in the centennial year, in the city of brotherly love, where the first organized effort for the medical education of women was made, where the oldest and best appointed medical college for women in the world is located, and where the fight against women’s entry into the medical profession began and was most hotly waged, was the place to take the manly new departures, which, so far as the national association is concerned, began yesterday in the election of Dr. Sarah Hackett Stevenson as a member in full standing from the State of Illinois.

“As she was educated for a teacher, she acted in that capacity from the time she graduated till five years ago, always as principal; and for her services in dissection she has received the State certificate.

“Five years ago she went to Chicago with the purpose of adopting literature as a pursuit, and to that end began a course of scientific study, as the scientific was the style of writing she preferred.

“From the elementary studies of anatomy and physiology, she gradually became interested to know more of the “human form divine,” and so was persuaded to take a full medical course.

“Two of these five years she spent in Europe, visiting hospitals, attending clinics, and a course of lectures in biology by Thomas Henry Huxley. The governor of our State gave her a commission to the Exposition in Vienna ; and she spent her vacations travelling through Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland.

“When she returned to graduate in the Woman’s Hospital Medical College of this city, she was elected valedictorian of the class, and after graduating, was appointed to the chair of physiology in the same college, and attending physician to the Hospital for Women and Children, which positions she now occupies. continue reading:

A graduate of Mount Carroll Seminary and Illinois’ State Normal University (1863), Sarah Stevenson initially taught school in Illinois towns and, in her last teaching post in Sterling, Illinois, also served as principal.

She moved to Chicago where she began to study medicine at the Woman’s Hospital Medical College which had recently been founded by Mary Harris Thompson and others. After a year, she went to London for a year where she studied with Thomas Henry Huxley at the South Kensington Science School.

In London she also became friends with the feminist Emily Faithfull.

Returning to Chicago and the Woman’s Hospital Medical College, she graduated with an M.D. in 1874. She began a private practice in Chicago and published Boys and Girls in Biology for high school students, based in part on Thomas Henry Huxley’s lectures she’d attended in London. In 1875 she was appointed professor of physiology and histology at the Woman’s Medical College.

As late as 1871, the American Medical Association had refused to even take up the question of opening membership to women. But in 1876, when Stevenson attended the AMA convention as a delegate of the Illinois State Medical Society, her presence was accepted without significant challenge and she became the AMA’s first female member.

In 1890, her position at the Medical College (now called the Woman’s Medical College and after 1891, the Northwestern University Woman’s Medical School) changed and she became professor of obstetrics. She served as well on staff at Provident Hospital, and was the first woman physician on staff at Cook County Hospital.

In 1880, she and Lucy Flower founded the Illinois Training School for Nurses. She published The Physiology of Women, also in 1880. She worked for many years with homeopath Frances Willard, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the National Temperance Hospital, which used no medications containing alcohol.

When Governor John P. Altgeld appointed Stevenson to the Illinois State Board of Health in 1893, she was the first woman in that position.

(Sarah Hackett Stevenson, Julia R. Lowe, Lucy Flower, and Jane Addams were all active members of the Chicago Woman’s Club and of the more exclusive Fortnightly Club, as were several members of the Board of Trustees of the Free Bath and Sanitary League.

In March 1892 the league appointed a committee of three women physicians, Wellington, Sarah Hackett Stevenson, and Julia R. Lowe, to investigate the need for public baths, assigning each to a different section of the city).

A member of the Chicago Woman’s Club, she spoke for admission of a “Negro woman” as a member. She served as President of the Woman’s Club during the eventful year of the Columbian Exposition, 1893.

She retired in 1903 after a cerebral hemorrhage and died in 1909 after a long illness, including a year in a coma.

Stevenson wrote Chicago Women.


Any views or advice in this site should not be taken as a substitute for medical advice or treatment, especially if you know you have a specific health complaint