1813 - 1872
No lordly Turk, smoking on his ottoman, could better depict the depravation which public manners would suffer, if Turkish women should openly walk, side by side with fathers, husbands, and brothers to the solemn Mosque, than some among us have portrayed the perversion our society must undergo if woman shares with man the office of Physician". Ann Preston, 1858
Ann Preston was a pioneering American woman doctor and founder of Pennsylvania’s Women’s Hospital.
Preston was born in West Grove, Pennsylvania to a family of Quaker abolitionists. She was educated in Westtown Quaker school in West Chester, Pennsylvania, but was recalled home when her mother became ill. She became increasingly aware of how sedentary and restricted were the lives of many women and felt that they needed to understand their own physiology better. She apprenticed herself to a Quaker doctor, Nathanial R. Moseley, and began to teach classes in health and hygiene.
In 1849, she began to apply to various medical colleges, but was consistently turned down on the grounds of her sex. However, in 1850, a group of Philadelphia businessmen, led by the Quaker William Mullen, established the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania – the first college in the world set up to train women as doctors. In the first year, eight women – of whom five, including Ann Preston, were Quakers – enrolled to study as Doctors of Medicine. In 1853, she was appointed Professor of Hygiene and Physiology.
Preston’s greatest ambition was to establish a Women’s Hospital. In 1858, she found what she believed were suitable premises and began raising money to found the hospital. But when the American Civil War broke out in 1860, the Female Medical College was forced to close and it appeared that her plans might never be realized. She used the funds already raised to send her friend, Dr. Emmeline Horton Cleveland, to study obstetrics in Paris.
Preston continued to raise money for the hospital, driving the family horse and buggy round the neighbouring counties canvassing Quaker families, eventually raising the money required. The Women’s Hospital opened in 1862. At the same time Preston persuaded the Female Medical College to reopen on the hospital premises, starting with a faculty of three women doctors and twenty students. In 1863 the college became one of the first in the US to train nurses.
In 1866, Preston became the college’s first female dean. Under her leadership, the college trained the first African American and the first Native American women doctors, as well as organising social programmes teaching hygiene and physiology to some of the city’s poorest women.
Preston next began to campaign for the right for her female medical students to attend clinics in the larger hospitals in Philadelphia. To begin with, women doctors were barred from all other hospitals, but in 1868 and 1869, first Blockley and then Pennsylvania Hospitals agreed to admit the women students.
Wherever it is proper to introduce women as patients, there also it is but just and in accordance with the instincts of truest womanhood for women to appear as physicians and students.
Partly driven by the ugly behaviour of the male medical students, public opinion began to swing in her favour, and women were gradually accepted in more and more hospitals.
By this time, Preston was suffering from articular rheumatism. She continued to teach at the college and to serve as a consulting physician at the Women’s Hospital until she died in 1872.