Pioneering doctor paved the way for women at U-M

May 22, 2017  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources,

Earlier this month, 174 U-M Medical School graduates walked across the stage at Hill Auditorium, earning their spot among the newest generation of physicians and health care leaders.

Among them were 85 women — all of whom were following in the footsteps of Amanda Sanford, M.D.

Indeed, U-M — with Sanford leading the way — became one of the first major medical schools in the nation to accept women. In 1871, Sanford became the medical school’s first female graduate, earning highest honors in her class.

In honor of the U-M bicentennial celebration, Headlines is honoring Sanford and all the people, places and events that have shaped Michigan Medicine over the years.

U-M opens its doors to women

Sanford began her medical career by studying for one year at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. She then moved to Boston for an 18-month training program at the New England Hospital, where she specialized in obstetrics.

But Sanford sought a university degree that would give her the credibility that most women in the mid-to-late 1800s were unable to receive. At the same time Sanford was looking to enter a medical school program, the U-M Medical School was seeking its first female students.

According to Medicine at Michigan, the school was well-positioned to become a national leader in attracting a diverse student body: “At 20 years old, the Medical School was an established school with a national reputation, yet not encumbered by a complex hierarchy.”

So in 1870, the school opened its doors to women, accepting Sanford and 17 others to the program. She was the first of the 18 women to graduate, writing her thesis on a common obstetrical complication at the time.

While some professors and students resisted the acceptance of women — with some shouting and stomping their feet whenever the women entered a lecture hall — Sanford was lauded by former faculty member Henry F. Lyster at her commencement ceremony. “It is my pleasing duty to welcome to the profession a woman coming from these halls,” Lyster said.

As he spoke, some students jeered Sanford and threw paper at her from their seats. But those taunts didn’t dissuade Sanford, who went on to become the first woman to run a private practice in Auburn, New York.

For more on Sanford’s inspiring story and why the U-M Medical School has named one of its four M-Homes after her, click here.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the university, there are a number of upcoming events that are free and open to Michigan Medicine faculty and staff. Here are some highlights:

  • Symposium, Strategies to Empower Women to Achieve Academic Success: 8:30 a.m. – 11 a.m., Wednesday, June 7, A. Alfred Taubman Biomedical Sciences Research Building, Kahn Auditorium
  • President’s Bicentennial Colloquium, The Evolving Bargain Between Research Universities and Society: 1:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m., Monday, June 26, Ross School of Business, Robertson Auditorium
  • Forever Valiant, Bicentennial book distribution: 11:30 a.m. – 5:50 p.m., Tuesday, June 27, Diag
  • MStaff200 staff celebration event: 11:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 27, Ingalls Mall

Click here for a full calendar and more information on all U-M bicentennial events.

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