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American Women’s Hospitals records
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Drexel University. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
- Drexel University: College of Medicine Legacy Center
- American Women’s Hospitals records
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- 31.5 Linear feet (63 boxes)
- Language of Materials note:
- Materials are in English.
- The collection contains the primary source material for a thorough institutional history of a major women's service organization that spans three-quarters of a century. Issues of professionalization, volunteerism, and social and occupational networks as they relate to women's professional and social careers are well-documented. The AWH records provide the sources to examine a classic example of a woman's association that self-consciously bridged private and public domains, actively sought to bring the resources of public associations and the state to the aid of individuals in their own communities, and, in those countries which most severely relegated women to the private household, offered women access to a professional and public career.
Cite as:American Women’s Hospitals records, Drexel University College of Medicine Archives.
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In November, 1915, at the Fiftieth Anniversary celebration of Chicago's Mary Thompson Hospital, a group of women physicians founded the Medical Women's National Association (MWNA). Two years later, in June, 1917, 300 women gathered at MWNA's annual meeting in New York City where Dr. Rosalie Slaughter Morton presented an illustrated lecture on the work of women physicians in World War I. Following her presentation, the members of MWNA agreed that a committee should be appointed to urge utilization of American women physicians in war work. Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen, president of MWNA, thereupon established the War Service Committee to register female medical workers, raise funds, and develop plans for service in Europe. The Committee adopted the name American Women's Hospitals in recognition of the fine work of the Scottish Women's Hospitals. Thus did the AWH begin its two-fold mission -- the relief of suffering through medical care, and the advancement of women in the medical profession.
Between 1917 and 1919, the AWH concentrated on fundraising and registration. Simultaneously, Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy, serving under the auspices of the American Fund for French Wounded and the American Red Cross, surveyed conditions in Europe. Lovejoy was to serve as AWH president for almost a half century, from 1919 to 1967. Her report at the 1918 MWNA meeting coincided with the sailing of the first AWH medical unit to Europe. American Women's Hospital #1 was established at the village of Neufmotiers, Seine-et-Marne, France on July 28, 1918.
By November of that year, over 1000 women physicians had been registered and $200,000 raised. However, when the Armistice was signed eleven days later, war relief efforts were thrown into disarray. The patriotism and fervor so prevalent in the U.S. during wartime declined rapidly as Americans left Europeans to fend for themselves. In the AWH, committee members resigned, donors withdrew pledges, and even personal friends withdrew support. Still, many founders of the AWH realized that "sickness did not end with the Armistice." Lovejoy claimed that the "aftermath -- local wars, revolutions, famine, and forced migrations" were "worse than the War in some countries."1 Dr. Barbara Hunt, Director of AWH #1, declared that "The war has been won; now the peace must be won."2 Throughout France, Serbia, and the Near East, American women physicians and nurses met medical emergencies, established public health programs, and provided social welfare services under the auspices of AWH. Typhoid fever, influenza, malaria, tuberculosis, venereal disease, pneumonia, smallpox, cholera, and a variety of skin and eye diseases literally plagued Europe; and, in many areas, the AWH provided the only medical care in the immediate post-war years.
For the AWH, medical care embraced transportation of patients, public health projects, temporary housing, and nurses' training as well as the more traditional optical, dental, surgical, and emergency treatments. The AWH shared medical work with the Red Cross and similar groups and complemented these efforts through joint social and economic programs with associations such as the American Committee for Devastated France, the Serbian Child Welfare Agency, the Near East Relief Committee, and with local and national government agencies.
By 1922, the AWH not only had provided four years of service to Europe, but also had established a number of projects and institutions through which local personnel could continue these services. At this juncture, plans for "terminating the program were under consideration" when the "greatest migration in the history of mankind" was begun by the burning of Smyrna and the "exodus of the Christian population from Turkey . . . ." This "unprecedented disaster calling for medical service changed the course of the American Women's Hospitals and [their] most important work began. Under the direction of Dr. Olga Stastny, a quarantine station was opened on Macronissi Island--an eleven-mile stretch of barren rock. Here three doctors, two nurses, and several refugee assistants cared for over 12,000 refugees suffering from smallpox, lice, typhus, and numerous other diseases. This work and the medical needs of the thousands of refugees flooding into Greece spurred the AWH to new and more extensive ventures. Mobil medical units, milk stations, and well-baby clinics were opened throughout Greece along with hospitals, nurses' training schools, and orphanages. Extension rather than termination became the policy of the AWH as they established similar services in Albania, Turkey, Serbia, Russia, Japan, and China during the 1930s. The primary purpose of the AWH remained the same: the relief of suffering through medical care.
The extension of efforts clarified the importance of their secondary aims: the advancement of women in medicine, and the establishment of ongoing health education, prevention, and care programs. Lectures, slide shows, and illustrated pamphlets were utilized throughout the United States to publicize women's medical work and to encourage donations for its continued support. In addition, the AWH campaigned for American government recognition of women's wartime medical service, which finally was forthcoming in 1943. Abroad, the organization campaigned for medical women's associations in each country, the members of which would be joined organizationally in the Medical Women's International Association (MWIA). The MWIA was a direct outgrowth of an AWH-sponsored reception in New York City in October, 1919, and Dr. Lovejoy served as the organization's first president simultaneously with her assumption of the AWH presidency. To further these international efforts, the AWH trained medical women in the various countries in which they served. Initially, the AWH sent American personnel abroad, but they soon discovered that female personnel "with a knowledge of the needs, facilities, languages and mores of their homeland could work more effectively and economically . . ." Moreover, this "policy of using locally qualified personnel" helped "to improve the status of women doctors" in their own country.
One product of this policy was the AWH School of Nursing established in Kokkinia, Greece. It was also in Kokkinia that the AWH founded one of its most extensive education, prevention, and care programs. Centered on the Model Public Hospital or Polyclinic, the program was directed by Drs. Ruth Parmelee and Angenette Parry and Miss Emilie Willams, R.N. The Polyclinic provided extensive outpatient services and hospital and surgical care while mobil units in dozens of villages offered emergency medical care, home demonstrations, milk stations, and immunization, maternity, and well-baby clinics. Over time, the maternity and pediatric wards became the focus of AWH efforts as local authorities and personnel took over other services; in 1969, the Polyclinic, serving over 16,000 individual cases per year, came under the complete control of the Greeks. World War II led to the re-establishment of AWH projects in France and the initiation of specific wartime services in Britain and other heavily bombarded areas. In the post-war period, AWH followed pre-war patterns but extended their programs to new geographical regions. Projects in Asia and the southern United States, initiated in the 1920s and 1930s respectively, were expanded in the 1950s and 1960s; a mobile roadside clinic in northern Haiti introduced AWH workers to Latin America in 1952. In these new regions, maternity care, pediatric services, family planning, and community health programs were the primary concerns of the AWH. In China, Japan, India, and Southeast Asia, the AWH trained and funded Asian personnel to provide such care, while in the southern United States local medical personnel, including visiting nurse-midwives, staffed a Healthmobile, maternity shelters, and general clinics. Here and in Latin America, projects were often more mobile and temporary than their European predecessors, but the emphasis remained woman-directed, community-oriented and controlled, and multifaceted medical care.
In the mid-1940s, Dr. Ruth Tichauer began a clinic in LaPaz, Bolivia on a similar model; and in 1961, the AWH provided funds to extend her work through a multi-purpose clinic which clearly reflected the historical and contemporary concerns of the AWH. The Bolivian project continues to serve the needs of the Aymaran Indians through both urban and rural clinics providing dental, legal, and social as well as medical services. An agricultural program to provide a more healthful diet and a sanitary water system had been included in the AWH-funded project. Dr. Tichauer and her staff have utilized and trained local medical personnel and have themselves played prominent roles in Latin American and international medical associations. Thus, the Bolivian project very effectively combines the wide-ranging concerns of the AWH.
From 1959 to 1982, the AWH labored under an independent charter which made them financially and administratively distinct from MWNA, itself renamed the American Medical Women's Association (AMWA) in 1937. In 1982, on AWH's 75th Anniversary, the organization once again became a committee of AMWA while continuing to fund projects specifically under their auspices. It was at the point of merging with AMWA in 1982 that the AWH completed the transfer of its own records to the Archives and Special Collections on Women in Medicine.
1. Esther Pohl Lovejoy, Women Physicians and Surgeons, National and International Organizations: Twenty Years with the American Women's Hospitals, A Review(Livingston, N.Y.: Livingston Press, 1939),25.
2. Women's Medical Journal, 29 (1919), 7.
3. Lovejoy, 119, 121.
4. Estelle Fraade, "American Women's Hospitals Service," World Medical Journal, 5 (1969), 114.
Scope and Contents
The Records of the American Women's Hospitals contain several types of historical material, cover a wide geographical area, and extend over a sixty-five year period. In the earliest years of the AWH, 1917-1920, the major arenas of activity were France, Albania, Greece, and the Near East. AWH personnel continued to labor extensively in the last three areas during the 1920s and 1930s and added services to Serbia, Russia, Asia, and the rural United States. The outbreak of World War II returned their attention to Western Europe as projects of emergency medical relief were made necessary in war zones. In the post-war period, the AWH worked to shift administrative and professional duties to the home country in Greece and France, and financed the training and employment of native female personnel in China, Japan, Haiti, India, Southeast Asia, and the Philippines. The most recent AWH ventures have focused on Indians in North and South America, and rural residents of the southeastern United States, curtailing emergency medical services in favor of on-going prevention programs.
Ten categories of material cover the period from the founding of the AWH as the War Service Committee of MWNA in 1917, through its incorporation as an independent organization, to its merger once again with the American Medical Women's Association in 1982. The 10 categories are: Historical Materials; Esther Pohl Lovejoy Materials; Project Files; Miscellaneous Correspondence; Minutes; Financial Records; Published Materials; Scrapbooks and Exhibition Materials; Memorabilia and Artifacts; and Photographs. The largest quantity of material is contained in section III, Project Files (Boxes 4-17e). Within this section are materials on the early years of the AWH; reports of AWH fieldwork; honors and testimonials to AWH personnel; relations with the American Medical Association and the Medical Women's International Association; and reports and talks by Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy, AWH president from 1919 to 1967. The largest number of project files concern individual medical projects funded by AWH, identified by geographical region or by the personnel directing a particular project. The most extensive projects are covered by both geographical and personnel files; these two, often overlapping, types of files were kept distinct to reflect the original filing system of the AWH office in New York City. In addition, one file each is devoted to the American Red Cross and the Reserve Corps, a private group which provided financial support for AWH projects between 1944 and 1949.
Ten volumes of minute books and two folders of minutes and correspondence, cover the period June 9, 1917 to June 2, 1982. These provide a continuous history of the AWH which cannot be obtained from the project files. Eleven boxes of financial records are also included and consist of annual and semi-annual audits between 1918 and 1981 and five ledger books from 1968-1982. A variety of miscellaneous materials, such as fundraising pamphlets, and books and articles authored by AWH personnel, comprise the bulk of this section. Several envelopes of photographs, three picture albums, one box of copper plate images of AWH field workers, 28 project files (18 by region and 10 by individual personnel), a letter box of Lovejoy correspondence with AMWA, and a number of miscellaneous files complete the series.
The collection also houses 19 boxes of photographs and picture albums. While many of the photos are unidentified, they provide a graphic chronicle of the variety and forms of AWH fieldwork. These photos were constantly requested of field workers by AWH officers in New York City to be used in fundraising and publicity campaigns. This accounts for the frequency with which AWH insignia appear in the pictures. Another 3 boxes contain published materials including books, reprints, and medical journals which complement journal runs housed at the Archives and in the MCP College Library. Two significant types of information appear sporadically in the AWH records: financial and personnel. Most of this information is scattered throughout the project files with additional material contained in the minute books. The index points the researcher to those project files with the most significant data, but systematic recreation of employment information, especially, would be very difficult to achieve from the existing records.
Several AWH projects are documented in particularly rich detail. AWH work in France, the Near East, Greece, and Bolivia is described in project files, in the correspondence of AWH personnel, and in reports and articles, and is vividly depicted in photographs. The major emphases in these projects were emergency medical care, maternity and children's care, preventive care programs, and the coordination of social and economic with medical aid. The materials covering these projects illustrate the enormous range of AWH labors across time and place, the multiplicity of needs and services in a single location, and the broad definition of medical care employed by the AWH.
The research value of the AWH collection is as wide-ranging as the services provided by the organization itself. There were clear historical precedents for AWH work, reaching back at least to women's labors with the United States Sanitary Commission during the Civil War. The General Hospital of New York, established for the care of returning soldiers a year before AWH was founded, was nurtured by the same patriotic and professional concerns of the later organization. Yet as Inez Hayes Irwin noted, for the extensiveness and success of its efforts, "the 'American Women's Hospitals' service is . . . a 'Cullinan' gleaming amid the big diamonds of medical achievement . . . ."(1) It was "singularly adapted to meeting appeals for medical relief with speed and economy." Its flexibility, wide connections with doctors all over the world through the Medical Women's International Association and confidence in the knowledge and judgement of colleagues regarding . . . local medical needs" has allowed AWH to provide in the field of medicine what women have provided in so many other spheres of American life--"maximum work at minimum cost."(2)
The AWH records provide a rich reservoir for the examination of such efforts in the twentieth century. The collection contains the primary source material for a thorough institutional history of a major women's service organization that spans three-quarters of a century. Issues of professionalization, volunteerism, and social and occupational networks as they relate to women's professional and social careers are well-documented. In addition, the AWH worked with a wide variety of class, racial, and ethnic groups and often mediated between disadvantaged groups seeking medical attention and local and national governments trying to conserve resources. Women's historians have vigilantly traced the growing distinction between private (women's) and public (men's) domains that began in the United States in the late eighteenth century, the effects of that growing distinction on women, and women's efforts to reshape private and public roles in their own and society's interests. The AWH records provide the sources to examine a classic example of a woman's association that self-consciously bridged private and public domains, actively sought to bring the resources of public associations and the state to the aid of individuals in their own communities, and, in those countries which most severely relegated women to the private household, offered women access to a professional and public career. In these efforts, AWH personnel gained experience and expertise in public relations, political activism (including woman's suffrage in the United States), international diplomacy, and medicine.
The primary focus of the AWH was emergency medical care. AWH records bearing directly on such care are most valuable in two areas: 1) the role of women in particular in such care; and 2) the application of medical care in a variety of social, economic, and political situations. The planning, funding, and actual administration of emergency medical treatment, especially in European and Near Eastern theaters of war, is fully documented in these files. The inclusion in AWH files of personal correspondence and field reports highlights a number of issues and events that are unusual to find discussed in such an institutional collection. Daily operations, particularly in Greece, Serbia, and Bolivia, and including personnel and personality conflicts within and between projects, are detailed in correspondence from Drs. Ruth Parmelee, Elfie Graff, Mabel Elliott, Sarah Foulks, Etta Gray, and Ruth Tichauer. Debates and negotiations over the relations between U.S.-based and foreign-based services and between U.S.-based and foreign-based personnel are included in the correspondence and reports from numerous projects. Also included are detailed descriptions of transportation, supply, and language problems. These same files contain full evaluations of social, economic, and, less frequently, political conditions in many regions of the world.
The application of medical treatments and the development of medical programs in this variety of circumstances is described in a number of ways. Specific medical and surgical treatments are detailed in case histories of individual patients and in statistical summaries of cases in a particular project. The correspondence of directors and physicians contains evaluations of specific treatments, particularly in unusual circumstances such as the Macronissi Island quarantine. Photographs depict both a wide variety of illnesses and some forms of medical care. The files on Greece, Latin America, and the southeastern United States contain some of the most graphic descriptions in terms of ongoing medical programs while those on Greece and Great Britain include vivid images of both war-time conditions and the medical problems they create.
The availability at the Archives and Special Collections on Women in Medicine of other individual and institutional papers which complement the AWH papers greatly enhances the research potential of this collection. These include the MWIA records; the AMWA historical collection, which consists of the papers of a number of individual women physician's active in the organization; AMWA, Branch 25 (Philadelphia) records; Bertha Van Hoosen, M.D., papers; and the personal papers of a number of women physicians active in AWH, including the papers of Dr. Alma Dea Morani, who succeeded Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy as President of the organization in 1967. A guide to materials in the Archives and Special Collections on Women in Medicine can be found online at http://archives.drexelmed.edu and is available from the Archives.
1. Irwin quoted in Esther Pohl Lovejoy, Women Physicians and Surgeons, Natonal and International Organizations: Twenty Years with the American Women's Hospitals, A Review (Livingston, N.Y.: Livingston Press, 1939), 25.
2. Estelle Fraade, "American Women's Hospitals Service," World Medical Journal, 5 (1969), 116.
The collection is arranged into 10 series:
- Historical Materials
- Esther Pohl Lovejoy Materials
- Project Files
- Miscellaneous Correspondence
- Minute Books
- Financial Records
- Published Materials
- Scrapbooks and Exhibition Materials
- Memorabilia and Artifacts
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Finding aid prepared by Eric Rosenzweig
The collection is open for research use.
Consult archivist regarding copyright restrictions.
The American Women's Hospitals (AWH) records were offered to the Archives and Special Collections on Women in Medicine, The Medical College of Pennsylvania, in 1979 under the direction of AWH President, Dr. Alma Dea Morani. The largest portion of the collection was transferred to the Archives in 1980 and was processed during 1981 with funds provided by AWH.
Additional early records were added in 1982, 1983, 1984, and 1987 completing the collection, which spans the period from 1917 through 1982.
With the funds provided by the American Women's Hospitals, the Archives and Special Collections on Women in Medicine hired Nancy Hewitt in 1981 to arrange and describe the collection and produce this guide. Dr. Hewitt, now an associate professor of history at the University of South Florida, was, at the time she worked on the Guide, a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at the University of Pennsylvania. She completed arrangement of the collection and preparation of a draft of the guide in the fall of 1982. By 1987, the last of the American Women's Hospitals records were deposited in the Archives and Special Collections on Women in Medicine, and work began by the Archives staff to incorporate these later shipments of materials into the collection and list them in the Guide. Dr. Hewitt also wrote the comprehensive overviews preceding the listing and the narrative descriptions of individual series.
Medical Women's International Association records. [ADD RESOURCE ID AND LINK TO FINDING AID]
American Medical Women's Association records
Bertha Van Hoosen, M.D. papers
Alma Dea Morani, M.D. papers
Marion Craig Potter, M.D. papers
Controlled Access Headings
- Elliott, Mabel Evelyn, b. 1881
- Foulks, Sara
- Graff, Elfie Richards
- Gray, Etta G., b. 1880
- Lovejoy, Esther Pohl, 1870-1967
- Van Hoosen, Bertha, -1863
- Women in medicine--History
- World War, 1914-1918--Hospitals
- World War, 1939-1945--Hospitals