Preston, Ann, 1813-1872

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Ann Preston (1813-1872) was a pioneer in women’s medical education. She graduated from the first class of the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1851, served on the faculty, founded the Woman’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a nursing school, and became the first woman dean of the Female Medical College in 1866. However, in addition to her contributions in medicine, Dr. Preston was also, “both moral and political reformer, visionary, fund-raiser, and institution builder,” (Peitzman, p. 45).

Ann Preston was born on December 1, 1813 at West Grove, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Amos and Margaret Smith Preston. Dr. Preston’s father was a farmer, a land owner and a Quaker minister, who imbued the family with the belief “in the Quaker principles of equality, simplicity and pacifism” (Hertzog, p. 64). Dr. Preston obtained her education at the local Quaker school as well as a Quaker boarding school located in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She left school as a result of her mother’s illness in order to care for her family, but she continued her education informally via local literary associations and the lyceum. During this time, she became active in the Clarkson Anti-Slavery Society and worked towards abolition, temperance and women’s rights. She also wrote poems and a book of children’s rhymes, Cousin Ann’s Stories.

Dr. Preston became interested in “educating women about their own bodies,” (National Library of Medicine) and therefore, became a teacher of physiology and hygiene to women. Her interest in medicine led her to apprentice with Dr. Nathaniel Moseley for two years. In 1847, she applied to four medical colleges in Philadelphia, but was rejected from all of them. In 1850, the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania was founded and Dr. Preston enrolled in the first class, graduating in December of 1851 at the age of 38. She remained at the Female Medical College for an additional year of education, and in 1853, she was appointed professor of physiology and hygiene at the College.

Despite the progress made for women’s education in medicine, women were still not entirely accepted by their male colleagues. In an introductory lecture to her students, Dr. Preston states, “while to a large portion of thinking and observing men, the medical education of women appears to be the natural result of the progress of society, there are others who still regard it as some abnormal social phenomenon; some abrupt and fantastic freak of unbridled liberty, unfitted to stand the test of time and experience,” (Preston, page 6). Indeed, in response to those who viewed women in medicine with suspicion, Dr. Preston began three years of fundraising in order to “establish a woman’s hospital in Philadelphia that would help poor women and give women doctors in training clinical experience,” (Hertzog, page 67). She succeeded in 1861 when the Woman’s Hospital of Philadelphia was founded and “women were finally able to obtain a medical education that included both a classroom and a clinical experience, something that male students had been enjoying for decades,” (Hertzog, p. 67). Continuing in her efforts to provide women with education and experience, Dr. Preston established a school of nursing in 1863.

In 1866, Dr. Preston became the first woman dean of Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, which a year later changed its name to Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. As dean, Dr. Preston was faced with continued lack of support from male physicians in the city. In 1867, “the Philadelphia Medical Society formally ostracized [the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania] making women inadmissible to membership in any of the state’s medical societies and closing teaching opportunities to them” (Lerner, page 408). In response to their statement, Dr. Preston responded, “that we have not had the facilities for acquiring medical information is a charge that, it seem to us, should hardly come from those who have systematically closed hospitals and colleges against our applications for admission, and who have endeavored to prevent the members of the fraternity from assisting us in our struggle for knowledge,” (Lerner, page 414). Dr. Preston, however, continued to work so that her students could attend clinics at both Philadelphia Hospital, Blockley and the Pennsylvania Hospital because, “although her students attended clinics at the Woman’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which [Dr. Preston] had founded in 1861, she did not want their education limited only to female patients or female-related issues,” (Hertzog, page 60). The infamous “jeering incident” occurred in 1869 during which female medical students attending a clinic at Philadelphia Hospital were harassed by male medical students.

In 1862, 1869 and again in 1871, Dr. Preston suffered from what was probably rheumatic fever. She never completely recovered from her illness in 1871 and she died on April 18, 1872 in Philadelphia. According to Steve Peitzman, “it is generally agreed that [Dr. Preston’s] inspiration and leadership carried the school from its tremulous beginnings to its first years of stable credibility,” (Peitzman, page 45).


Hertzog, Kate. More than Petticoats: Remarkable Pennsylvania Women . Guilford, CT: TwoDot, 2007.

Lerner, Gerda, editor. The Female Experience: an American Documentary . New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

National Library of Medicine. Dr. Ann Preston. (, accessed June 7, 2011).

Peitzman, Steve J. A New and Untried Course: Women’s Medical College and Medical College of Pennsylvania . New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2000.

Preston, Ann. Introductory lecture to the class of the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania . Philadelphia: A. Ketterlinus, 1859.

From the guide to the Ann Preston, M.D. papers, 1831-1880, (Drexel University: College of Medicine Legacy Center)

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associatedWith White, Josiah, 1781-1850. person
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Birth 1813-12-01

Death 1872-04-18



Ark ID: w642173c

SNAC ID: 43304734