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Dr. Hobart, I presume

Posted by Joshua Glenn  February 5, 2008 01:53 PM

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Curious about the image above -- which I found in the Library of Congress's Flickr photoset -- I did a little research on "Dr. Mary Hobart."

It turns out that Hobart was the great-great-grandaughter of Martha Ballard, a New England midwife whose late-18th-century diary was the source material for the fascinating scholarly book "A Midwife's Tale" (Random House, 1991), by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. And thanks to Ulrich's research, we know quite a bit about Hobart, too.

In 1930, Ulrich tells us, Hobart gave her great-great-grandmother's diary to the Maine State Library in Augusta. In a letter written at the time, she summarized her own life in a few brisk sentences, referring to herself in the third person:

The doctor, who likes to believe that the mantle of her gifted ancestor fell on her shoulders, was born in Boston, 1851 -- She graduated from the Woman's Medical College of the New York Infirmary, in 1884, and carried on her medical work in Boston until 1913, when she retired to private life and took up her residence at Needham Heights, Mass. During the thirty years of her professional life, she was associated with the New England Hospital for Women and Children of Boston.

Ulrich is more forthcoming about Hobart's career than Hobart herself was:

Hobart began her professional life at the famous New York Infirmary for Women and Children, founded by Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the United States to graduate from medical school. Blackwell had hoped that other women might follow in her footsteps, but when established medical colleges, including her own alma mater, Geneva College, closed their doors to female students, she was forced to open her own. Thanks to Blackwell's efforts and those of others like her, female physicians comprised about 5 percent of the profession in the late nineteenth century, a figure that changed little until the 1960s.
Mary Hobart spent the remainder of her professional life at another landmark institution: the New England Hospital, founded in 1862 by Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, was the second hospital in the United States run by women for women. Unabashedly separatist, it survived into the middle of the twentieth century, simultaneously committed to high professional standards and to female control.

One final note of interest, again from Ulrich: The year Mary Hobart received the diary was an important one for the female physicians of Boston. On June 10, 1884, after more than thirty years of debate, the Massachusetts Medical Society voted (63 to 47) to admit women as members.

Now you know!

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1 comments so far...
  1. From the surrounding photos in the photoset, she may have been a witness in the Richeson case.

    Posted by GD April 25, 08 12:19 AM
About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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