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In Pursuit of a Grand Cause

Banner exhibit highlighting students and faculty of the Northwestern University Woman’s Medical School

Sarah Hackett Stevenson, MD (1841-1909)

By Katie Lattal, Special Collections Librarian

Sarah Hackett Stevenson, MD was the 1874 valedictorian of the Woman’s Hospital Medical College. After study abroad, she became a professor of physiology and histology at the college, and later taught obstetrics, ethics, and history. She had a private practice and was on staff at half a dozen area hospitals. Stevenson was the first female member of the American Medical Association (1876), the first woman on staff at Cook County Hospital (1881), and the first woman appointed to the Illinois State Board of Health (1893). She also co-founded a nursing school, a maternity hospital, and two homes for needy populations. In her spare time she was an active member of 10+ social and professional clubs.

When it became apparent that the Medical Bureau of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition would not honor its promise to employ three women doctors at the fair, Stevenson and her peers were determined that the female physician community would be represented. They raised funds for an Illinois Woman’s Hospital and Pharmacy building, staffed entirely by female doctors, nurses, and pharmacists from the state. The building was a living exhibit; the staff treated over 3000 patients in the model wards and operating rooms.

Stevenson was committed to the betterment of women. She worked to provide women with quality medical care, advocated for women's rights and welfare, and championed women's abilities as physicians, fighting for equality of opportunity in medical education.