Today in History – November 1, 1848 – opening of the Boston Female Medical College, the first medical school for women in the world. Twelve women enroll in the first class and graduate in 1850. The Boston medical establishment’s reaction was immediately condemnatory, claiming women had insufficient stamina to deal with the tension of medical practice. A total of 98 women earned their degrees from the college over the next two decades, along with a larger number of midwives and other allied professionals. Today, women make up over 50% of the medical school students and women students are reaching parity in bioengineering and biomedical engineering as well – yet they are still less than 10% of the medical and engineering faculty.
A recent study of the National Academies titled Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering found unintentional biases were a major contributor to the low number of women on our science and engineering faculties. Women face barriers to hiring and promotion in research universities in many fields of science and engineering — a situation that deprives the United States of an important source of talent as the country faces increasingly stiff global competition in higher education, science and technology, and the marketplace. Eliminating gender bias in universities requires immediate, overarching reform and decisive action by university administrators, professional societies, government agencies, and Congress. The report was motivated by former Harvard President Larry Summers’ speculation that the low numbers of women in science and engineering are because women don’t want to work hard enough and that there may be a biological basis. His discounted discrimination as a tertiary factor. Seems a bit like “back to the future” when considering the medical community’s response to the opening of the first medical school for women. The National Academy report emphasized that both men and women need to be educated as how to achieve gender equity in science and engineering. See the Engineering Pathway’s Engineering Diversity site and our resources on gender equity.
Also on this date, Edison files to patent his electric lamp in 1879, the U.S. detonates first H-bomb in 1952, the Mackinac Bridge opens as world’s largest suspension bridge of its day in 1957, and the Arecibo Observatory opens in 1963.