Redefining the Margins:
Women Physicians and American
Hospital appointments are crucial for successful medical practice.
The more important posts are associated with the highly specialized
practices… The two form an interrelated system.
Sociologist Oswald Hall, 1948
One of our most important problems [at this hospital] is picking in-
terns. The main qualification as far as I can see is “personality.”
Hospital department chair, quoted by Hall, 1948
IN JANUARY 1900, Superintendent Sophia Palmer of Rochester City Hospital sent a long letter to the hospital board’s executive committee. In an attempt to attract more patients to the hospital, she urged that Dr. Marion Craig Potter, a leading physician in the city and the only woman on the hospital’s outpatient staff, be “granted the privilege of bringing [women patients of the public ward class] into the hospital,” adding: “Dr. Potter brings us quite a large number of private patients during the year.” Although the Board of Directors readily agreed to the proposal, the medical board flatly rejected it. Rather than promoting Dr. Potter to the regular inpatient staff and giving her charge of a women’s ward, they grudgingly agreed to name her assistant to the staff, a position with little authority. In “all cases,” they insisted, patients would be assigned to her by the attending physician or surgeon. At the time, Potter was a successful practitioner with fourteen years’ experience. She continued her prosperous private practice until her retirement in 1938. But neither she nor any other woman physician was appointed to the regular inpatient staff of City Hospital for another quarter century.1 Marion Craig Potter’s experience provides a rare win-