because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Marie Zakrzewska

Marie Zakrzewska began learning how to be a midwife at thirteen by watching her mother deliver babies in Germany in the 1840's. When she was old enough, she graduated as a midwife herself and was almost immediately appointed Head Midwife and teacher at the school, though she was still in her early twenties and the male doctors and administrators were highly resistant to her having either position.

Emigrating to the United States to search out better opportunities for herself, Zakrzewska graduated from medical school in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1856. But most doors in the U.S. were also shut to women, so she joined in-your-face woman doctor Elizabeth Blackwell in New York, where she served as resident physician and manager at the infirmary Blackwell had established with her sister, who was also a doctor. Women were rarely hired and virtually never promoted to positions of authority in the medical field at the time. So highly-trained and often remarkably skilled in-your-face women opened hospitals, hired each other, and trained other women to do the same.

After spending two years with the Blackwells and three years teaching obstetrics at a college that failed to live up to its promises about respecting women doctors, Zakrzewska opened the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston. Hiring a staff made up primarily of women doctors and surgeons and setting up a school for nurses, Zakrzewska eventually made it a point to accept Black women nursing students, as well, at a time when this was unheard of. She worked for women's rights and women's suffrage. She campaigned against slavery. And she recognized and made no apology for attending to the social service needs of poverty-stricken patients. In-your-face women would be happy to serve alongside men in the field of their choice, but when they're made to feel unwelcome, they just establish an alternate -- and often better -- universe. It's always an option.

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