Sue Young Histories

Rosalie Slaughter Morton 1876 – 1955

February 18, 2008

Rosalie Slaughter MortonRosalie Slaughter Morton 1876 – 1955 graduated from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1897 and was an ardent suffragist.

She would have known all the homeopaths in the movement at this time, and during World War 1, Rosalie served alongside homeopaths Cornelia C Brant, Adelaide Brown and Florence Nightingale Ward on the Committee of Women Physicians of the General Medical Board of the Council of National Defense.

Rosalie Slaughter Morton was the first woman faculty member at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and one of the first at New York Polyclinic Hospital and Post-Graduate Medical School. She lobbied for the equal recognition of male and female physicians in war service, and served in European field hospitals during World War I.

Rosalie Slaughter grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia, in a wealthy family with long-standing residency in the Old Dominion. After attending private schools in Lynchburg, she entered a finishing school in Baltimore, Maryland.

In 1937 Dr. Morton noted in her autobiography that, “My entire upbringing and education had been designed, as it was for all Southern girls, to make me a capable wife—not to imbue me with a desire for a career.”

As the daughter of a respected banker and attorney from a prominent southern family, She was expected to marry and raise a family rather than pursuing a career. Yet by the end of her life, Dr. Morton had practiced medicine on three continents, visited all but the most remote locations in the world, and served as a physician in the field hospitals of World War I.

But when it came time for her to fulfill social expectations to marry, Slaughter chose a different path. Against her parents’ wishes, she followed the examples of her grandfather and two older brothers by enrolling in medical school.

Entering the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1893, she completed her degree four years later, winning two of the three honors available to her graduating class.

After graduation, she completed her residency at the Alumnae Hospital and Dispensary, and spent several years traveling abroad, studying with renowned European physicians. She also worked with the British Laboratory in India on a prophylactic against three forms of bubonic plague.

In 1902, she set up a private practice specializing in gynecology in Washington, D.C. Although her new practice grew steadily, she did not stay long in Washington.

When she met and married attorney George Morton, the couple moved to New York around 1907. (”I will love, honor, cherish- but not obey.“)

Dr. Morton also worked in public health education, including chairing the Public Health Education Committee of the American Medical Association.

What Rosalie Slaughter Morton truly wanted to do though, was to follow the example of the Scottish and British Women’s Hospitals created to treat men wounded in World War I.

After a trip to Labrador to work in the Mission Hospitals there, she returned home determined to seek out the challenge and renown she believed would come with this work.

In 1916, the Red Cross appointed Dr. Morton special commissioner and charged her with the task of taking supplies from Paris to the Salonica war front. While traveling and attending wounded French soldiers, Morton learned everything she could about field hospitals management, working for a time at the 3,000-bed field hospital at Sedes, in Macedonia.

Upon her return to the United States, Morton began working with the Medical Women’s National Association with the aim of establishing and American Women’s Hospital Service in Europe. As chair of the Medical Women’s National Association’s War Services Committee, Morton lobbied to have women physicians recognized as equal to men for medical duty in war.

Facing concerted opposition from Congress and the War Department, however, Morton set about raising money and organizing the hospital service. After months of hard work, tremendous tension within the association, and immense personal strain, she watched the first American Women’s Hospital open in July 1918.

From 1912 to 1918, Dr. Morton was a faculty member in the gynecology department at New York Polyclinic Hospital and Post-Graduate Medical School, and from 1916 to 1919 served in the surgical department of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

For the rest of her life, Dr. Morton continued to run a medical practice in the United States, but carried on her work in support of European hospitals, seeking ways to educate men and women in war-torn countries, particularly Yugoslavia and Serbia.

Her work ended shortly after a severe bout of pneumonia forced her to retire to Florida, where she died in 19(55).

Rosalie met Leo Tolstoy in 1911 and she wrote about her trip to Russia in the New York Times.

Rosalie wrote A Doctor’s Holiday in Iran, A Woman Surgeon: The Life and Work of Rosalie Slaughter Morton, A Higher Standard of Morality and Report of Meeting Held July 20th, 1909 New York City for the Public Health Education Committee, American Medical Association.

The papers of Rosalie Slaughter Morton, M.D. were transferred to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library from Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida, in September 1972. Rollins College had obtained them from Miss Helen Duke, niece of Dr. Morton. The papers had been stored in a garage for some time and over one third of them were lost to insects and dampness. The contents of the unsalvagable materials is unknown.


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