Jacobi, Mary Putnam

September 15, 2011

Mary Putnam Jacobi (1842-1906) was a physician, women’s rights advocate, writer, and medical educator; she is best known for her efforts to improve education for women and to advance the status of women in the medical field. Born in London, England, on August 31, 1842, Mary Corinna Putnam was the daughter of George Palmer Putnam, founder of the publishing firm of G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Her younger brother, Herbert Putnam, was a librarian of Congress. The family returned to the United States in 1848, and Mary grew up in Staten Island, Yonkers, and Morrisania, New York.

Before Mary turned 18 years old, she had a story published in the Atlantic Monthly and she seemed headed for a literary career. However, her love of science led her to a medical career instead. She graduated from the New York College of Pharmacy in 1863 and the Female (later the Woman’s) Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1864. After working for a few months at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston, Jacobi decided in 1866 to seek further training in Paris. There she attended clinics, lectures, and a class at the Ecole Pratique. She then sought admission to the Ecole de Medecine in Paris, fighting to become one of the first women admitted to the school. She graduated in 1871 with high honors and a prizewinning thesis.

Jacobi returned to New York City, opened a practice, and began teaching at Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell’s Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities available to most women pursuing a medical career, in 1872, Mary organized the Association for the Advancement of the Medical Education of Women (later the Women’s Medical Association of New York City). She was president of the association from 1874 to 1903. In 1873, she married Dr. Abraham Jacobi, generally considered the founder of pediatrics as a medical specialty in America. In the same year, she began a children’s dispensary service at Mount Sinai Hospital. From 1882 to 1885, she lectured on diseases of children at the New York Post-Graduate Medical School, and in 1886, she opened a small children’s ward at the New York Infirmary. In addition to clinical work and teaching, she found time for writing as well. She had over 100 medical articles and 9 books published, including the 1876 Boylston Prize winner entitled The Questions of Rest for Women during Menstruation. Jacobi also took an interest in social causes outside the medical field. She helped found the Working Women’s Society and the League for Political Education. She died in New York on June 10, 1906.

SEE ALSO: Blackwell, Elizabeth; Discrimination

Suggested Reading

  • Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2003). Mary Putnam Jacobi. Chicago.
  • Encyclopedia of world biography (2nd ed.) (1998). Mary Putnam Jacobi. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Research.
  • Garnet, C. (2001). Portrait of a 19th century physician-writer. The NIH Record, LIIK8), 1.
  • The National Women’s Hall of Fame. (1993). Women of the Hall (1998)
  • The reader’s companion to American history. (1991). The Society of American Historians. New York: Houghton Mifflin (2003)

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