Ohio History Journal

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Medical Education in the 1890s:

An Ohio Woman's Memories



The material presented here is drawn from the unpublished papers

of a long-time Columbus physician, the late Ida May Wilson. Written in

1941 when she was in her seventy-seventh year, this excerpt records Dr. Wil-

son's memories of her medical education during the years 1894-1896 at the

Ohio Medical University.1 Her description of the primitive training provided

as late as the 1890s by an accredited medical school (which "from the first

maintained a high place among the educational institutions of the State,"

according to one medical history2) will probably come as a surprise to most

readers. What will come as little surprise is Dr. Wilson's description of the

treatment accorded her as a woman presumptuous enough to enter upon the

study of medicine. The details of the indignities inflicted upon her by the

medical establishment and by her male classmates serve to confirm the

accuracy of two recent and important books on the history of women and

medicine in this country, Gena Corea's The Hidden Malpractice: How Ameri-

can Medicine Treats Women as Patients and Professionals and Mary Roth

Walsh's "Doctors Wanted: No Women Need Apply": Sexual Barriers in the

Medical Profession, 1835-1975.3

Ida May Wilson was born on a farm near Mt. Vernon, Ohio, in 1864 and

remained on the farm until she was nearly thirty years old. Her only formal

education during that time was secured in the one-room Bonar School (which

still stands on the Green Valley Road northwest of Mt. Vernon); her at-

tendance at even that humble academy was limited to a mere five years be-

cause of severe eye trouble and "repeated attacks of tonsillitis, a weak

stomach, and a poor appetite," as she says in her memoirs. Upon the death

of her father in 1893, the family (Ida, her older sisters Hettie and Stella, and


Dr. Gabel is Professor of English at The Ohio State University, Columbus.


1. The Ohio Medical University accepted its first class only two years before Ida Wil-

son enrolled there. It was established by disaffected staff members of the Columbus

Medical College and Starling Medical College upon the merger of the former into the

latter in 1892. In 1907 the Ohio Medical University and Starling Medical College were

themselves merged into Starling-Ohio Medical College, which became in 1914 the Col-

lege of Medicine of The Ohio State University.

2. The Ohio State University College of Medicine: A Collection of Source Material

Covering a Century of Medical Progress 1834-1934 (Blanchester, OH: Brown Publish-

ing Co., 1934), 235.

3. Gena Corea, The Hidden Malpractice: How American Medicine Treats Women as

Patients and Professionals (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1977). Mary Roth

Walsh, "Doctors Wanted: No Women Need Apply": Sexual Barriers in the Medical Pro-

fession, 1835-1975 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977).