Sue Young Histories

Bertha Van Hoosen 1863 - 1952

March 13, 2008

van hoosenBertha Van Hoosen 1863 - 1952 was trained at the homeopathic Boston Female Medical College. the North Western Female Medical College, where Frances Willard was one of her students, and at the University of Michigan Medical School.

Despite Van Hoosen being a star pupil, she was denied a faculty position because she was a woman. She went on to become the first President of the American Medical Women’s Association, and the Medical Women’s National Association.

Van Hoosen Obstetrician and surgeon from Stoney Creek, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois had medical residences at the Woman’s Hospital in Detroit, the Michigan Asylum for the Insane in Kalamazoo, and at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston, Massachusetts, and later headed the obstetrical department of the Chicago Hospital for Women and Children (1896 - 1899).

She then joined the surgical staff of Provident Hospital, an institution that also provided service and training to African-Americans. She briefly headed the gynecology department at Northwestern University Woman’s Medical School in 1901 for nine months prior to the institution’s closure.

Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen later became the first female faculty member of the University of Illinois College of Medicine despite considerable opposition from male faculty. She experimented with the use of scopolamine-morphine anesthesia in surgery, received the highest score in the 1913 Civil Service Board examinations for gynecological staff at Cook County Hospital, and was ultimately appointed head of the obstetrics department at Loyola University of Chicago’s medical school in 1918.

Bertha Van Hoosen was born March 26, 1863 in Stoney Creek, MI. She was the daughter of Joshua and Sarah Taylor Van Hoosen.

Dr. Van Hoosen received her bachelor’s degree from Michigan in 1884. She was among the first women to graduate from the University of Michigan’s medical school.

A member of the class of 1888, Dr. Van Hoosen began her career in Chicago in 1892. She continued to practice there until age 88, a year before she died. Her professional affiliations included being the first President of the American Medical Women’s Association.

Additionally, she was the only woman of her time, other than Madam Marie Curie, elected an honorary member of the International Association of Medical Women.

Van Hoosen managed to train as a doctor despite the protestations of her parents, she was determined to ’be her own boss‘.

Van Hoosen gained her love of surgery as a small child on the family farm, reveling in ‘hog killing time’ and learning how to dress chickens and turkeys:

On the farm I had learned how to meet realities without suffering either mentally or physically. My initiative had never been blunted. I had freedom to succeed, freedom to fail. Life on the farm produces a kind of toughness.

Van Hoosen used money earned from teaching calisthenics and physiology to finance her professional training, and she eventually built up a successful private practice in Chicago.

Inspired by Mary McLean and Eliza Mosher, and in spite of the difficulties laid in her path, Van Hoosen fought for equal rights for women in medical schools, forging ahead with her ambitions despite the opposition of the American Medical Association and the Journal of The American Medical Association.

Van Hoosen and her colleagues formed the Woman’s Medical Journal and the Medical Women’s National Association, and struggled to forge a place for women in the American medical establishment.

When the War broke out, Van Hoosen immediately cabled President Wilson to offer the services of woman doctors. Van Hoosen was following in the footsteps of homeopath Clemence Lozier and the homeopathic hospitals which did admit women, forcing orthodox establishments to change against their will as women were achieving great success in homeopathic establishments.

Homeopaths were leaving a shining path for other woman doctors to follow, having forged their own difficult path through prejudice which allowed others to also succeed.

Van Hoosen in her turn, facilitated other woman doctors, including Li Yuin Tsao (who trained at the homeopathic Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania), the first Chinese woman intern at the Mary Thompson Hospital, and Margaret Jessie Chung (who also trained in a homeopathic establishment), calling these women her ’surgical daughters‘.

Van Hoosen trained many women surgeons denied places in male dominated orthodox medical schools, and many of them never married, maybe due to their experiences and their struggle to succeed in such difficult times.

Van Hoosen was an advocate and developer of twilight sleep for childbirth, a technique defended by homeopaths.

Van Hoosen contributed to the Journal of the Michigan State Medical Society, The Quarterly Review of Biology, the New York Medical Journal, The Illinois Medical Journal, The Therapeutic Gazette, The Michigan Alumnus, Surgery, Gynecology & Obstetrics, The American Journal of Clinical Medicine and many others. Van Hoosen spoke at conferences and wrote papers on Scopolamine-morphine anaesthesia, Obstetrical Outline, Report on Maternal Mortality and Abortion.

Van Hoosen’s autobiography is Petticoat Surgeon.

I felt greatly displeased that we did not have more women teachers and that when such women as Alice Freeman came in to their own it was never with the aid and encouragement of the Alma Mater. As far as giving women a chance in the teaching faculty, the Univ. of Michigan is our Pseudo Mater and not our Alma Mater.

The Van Hoosen family farm is now a museum. Her family papers are archived.