The Doctor Wore Petticoats: Women Physicians of the Old West

By Chris Enss | Go to book overview

NELLIE MATTIE MACKNIGHT
BELOVED CALIFORNIA PHYSICIAN

Taken as a whole they will probably never amount to much unless
the experience of the past belies that of the future. While this is so,
yet no person of extended views or liberal ideas can desire to see the
doors of science closed against them.

—Doctor R. Beverly Cole (a prominent male
physician) in a speech delivered to members of
the California Medical Society, 1875

Eighteen-year-old Nellie Mattie MacKnight stepped confidently into the spacious dissecting room at San Francisco's Toland Hall Medical School. Thirty-five male students, stationed around cadavers spread out on rough board tables, turned to watch the bold young woman enter. The smell of decomposing corpses mixed with the tobacco smoke wafting from the pipes of several students assaulted Nellie's senses. Her knees weakened a bit as she strode over to her appointed area, carrying a stack of books and a soft, rawhide case filled with operating tools.

To her fellow students, Nellie was a delicate female with no business studying medicine. Determined to prove them wrong, she stood up straight, opened her copy of Gray's Anatomy, and removed the medical instruments from the case.

It was the spring of 1891. She nodded politely at the future

-43-

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