Remember the Ladies: Mary Harris Thompson
Mary Harris Thompson, MD, 1865–1895, was the founder, head physician and surgeon of the Chicago Hospital for Women and Children, renamed Mary Harris Thompson Hospital after her death in 1895. She was one of the first women to practice medicine in Chicago.
Early life and education
Thompson was born in Fort Ann, Washington County, New York, April 15, 1829. She began her studies at a nearby school, then transferred to Fort Edward Institute, New York. She continued her studies at West Poultney Academy, Vermont, and in 1860 enrolled in classes at the New England Female Medical College in Boston. During this time she spent one year in an internship at the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. She received her medical degree in 1863.
In 1890, the Chicago Medical College granted a degree ad eundem to Thompson.
Upon graduating from the New England Female Medical College, Thompson moved to Chicago, a city which had been founded only 30 years prior and with little competition for a woman physician. She initially worked in the Northwestern Sanitary Commission’s Chicago branch (a branch of the United States Sanitary Commission) for Dr. William G. Dyas and Miranda Dyas, serving Civil War veterans’ families in Chicago. During this phase of her career, Thompson was limited in her ability to care for patients; women were not yet permitted to be on any of Chicago’s hospital staffs, and at least one area hospital did not admit women as patients.
She then founded her own hospital, with the assistance of Rev. William R. Ryder, who raised funds for the project. In May, 1865, the Chicago Hospital for Women and Children opened, and Thompson became chief surgeon and physician, and head of staff—positions she kept the rest of her life.
In 1870, Thompson founded Woman’s Hospital Medical College. She became one of initial nine faculty members, and served in this role until 1879, when the college separated from the hospital. In 1874, she began directing a nursing school within the hospital. In 1892, she joined the faculty of the Northwestern University Woman’s Medical School as a clinical professor of gynecology.
Thompson was admitted to the Chicago Medical Society in 1873; she became the organization’s vice president, and its first female officer, in 1886. She was a member of the American Medical Association (AMA), and the AMA’s first woman to present a paper to the Section on Diseases of Children, which earned her the role of Section Chair. She published and presented several papers on women’s health and childhood diseases during her career. She also invented several surgical instruments and a special needle adopted by surgeons at the time. [Wikipedia, April 14, 2015, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Harris_Thompson]