Women during the Civil War: An Encyclopedia

By Judith E. Harper | Go to book overview
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Zakrzewska, Marie (1829-1902)

Marie Zakrzewska is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential nineteenth-century women physicians in the United States. Throughout most of her nearly 50-year medical career, she provided young women DOCTORS with rigorous clinical training that was equal, if not superior, to the medical education offered to male doctors. A member of the pioneering generation of American women physicians, Zakrzewska spent the Civil War years establishing and keeping afloat a hospital expressly for poor, working-class Boston women—an enterprise that offered an excellent training ground for female medical school graduates. Zakrzewska is all too infrequently remembered for her advocacy of numerous mid-nineteenth-century reform movements, the most important and pivotal of which was her involvement in the radical political activism of a small community of intellectual German immigrants.

Marie Zakrzewska was born in Berlin, Germany, the daughter of Polish emigrés. Her grandmother was a veterinary surgeon and her mother worked as a midwife, largely because her father’s salary as a civil servant was insufficient to support the family. From the age of 14, Zakrzewska accompanied her mother on her rounds and helped her deliver babies. When she was 18, she was determined to study midwifery and at age 20 attended the School for Midwives in Berlin. She decided to emigrate to the United States in the belief that American women had greater opportunities in medicine.

When she settled in New York City in 1853, she soon learned that openings for women in medicine were nearly nonexistent. When she found it impossible to make a living as a midwife, she formed a knitting business with her sister. She attempted to make connections

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