women in medicine

Women Medical Students in Anatomy Lab

 Founded in 1868 by Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman graduate of an American medical school, the Women's Medical College was a maverick institution that provided a full medical education, from the study of homeopathy (then a popular specialty) to gross anatomy lab, to women both black and white in an integrated setting.
 The character Sarah Blacksall in Metropolis was loosely inspired by Blackwell, who was a generation older and the dean of the school at the time the novel is set. Susan Smith is a real figure in the history of medicine and was the first black graduate of the Women's Medical College, receiving her degree with the first class in 1870. She was born in Weeksville, Brooklyn, and practiced in New York and Brooklyn for twenty-five years, seeing black and white patients alike, and well-to-do as indigent ones, before leaving the city with her second husband.
 The integrated Smith-Blacksall clinic I have imagined never actually existed, but it is consistent with the kind of practices being run in the late 19th-century by activist doctors and social reformers at a time when the dissemination of information about contraception and women's health was being suppressed by such means as the 1873 Comstock Laws, which forbade the use of the U.S. Mail to distribute so-called obscene material.
 The abortion by acupuncture that occurs in Metropolis is also based on real traditional Chinese medical practice. Just as acupuncture may promote or enhance fertility or encourage a breech fetus to move to a head-down position, it can be used at an early phase of pregnancy to make the body inhospitable to the growing embryo. One common method of abortion is to use strong acupuncture point stimulation of San Yin Chiao (SP6) in conjunction with He Gu (LI4). The abortion is generally realized within 24 hours.

Susan Smith McKinney Steward
Susan Smith McKinney-Steward, MD.
Susan Smith grave at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn
Susan Smith's grave at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn.

The Women's Medical College