Marie Elizabeth Zakrzewska, 1829-1902

  • Marie-Elizabeth-Zakrzewska-WWP

Woman Category: Activism & Feminism and HealthWoman Tags: 19th Amendment Centennial Anniversary, Educator, Greater Boston Women, Physician, and Suffragist

  • HerStory

    A pioneering female doctor and educator of female physicians.

    Zakrzewska was born to Polish immigrant parents in Berlin, Germany. She was an extraordinarily brilliant child, and after leaving school at 13, she accompanied her mother to treat patients and learn to be a midwife. After repeating rejections, she enrolled in the school for midwives at the Charité Hospital in Berlin. She graduated at 22 years old and was nominated to the chief midwife with the rank as a college professor, the first woman to hold the position.
    Zakrzewska kept her position for only six months before she was forced to resign due to complaints of a female’s idea in this position. In 1853, she immigrated to the United States, hoping to find better opportunities to practice medicine as a woman.
    When she was 27 years old, she graduated from Medical School Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and moved to NYC to open her practice. She also assisted Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell (the first woman physician in the US) to found the New York Infirmary for Women and Children and worked there as a physician and a manager.
    Two years later, Zakrzewska accepted the position of a resident physician and professor of obstetrics and diseases of women and children at the New England Female Medical College in Boston. Three years later, she resigned after realizing that the college founder was only interested in training midwives and not female doctors.
    That same year in 1862, Zakrzewska founded the New England Hospital for Women and Children, an institute that provided not only clinical care but also training for female nurses and physicians. She worked in several positions in the hospital, as well as in her private practice. Over the years, the hospital expanded to contain 8 buildings and a professional nursing school.
    Zakrzewska died in her home 3 years after she retired.

    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She was a supporter of women’s suffrage and abolition.
    • She pioneered the movement that opened the nursing profession to black women.
    • She was a founding member of the New England Woman’s Club.
    • The New England Hospital for Women and Children was a leader in preventing contagious fevers and reducing childbed fever deaths.
    • It was the first hospital in Boston, and the second hospital in America, run by women physicians.
    • Her home in Jamaica Plain was a center of medical, feminist, and abolitionist discussions.
    • She was called Dr. Zak since no one could pronounce her name.
  • More About Her Legacy
    Creations By and About Her:

    * Her autobiography
    * Books by her and about her

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  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Dr. Marie Elizabeth Zakrzewska (A documentary by: Chasey R.)

    A short documentary discussing the life of Dr. Zakrzewska. This was for a school assignment by: Chasey Rexwinkle.

  • Photo credit - NIH Library.