Stepping out of the Shadows: Alabama Women, 1819-1990

By Mary Martha Thomas | Go to book overview

7
From Parsonage to Hospital Louise Branscomb Becomes a Doctor

NORMA TAYLOR MITCHELL

When thirty-year-old Louise Hortense Branscomb came home to Bir mingham, Alabama, in 1931 to open her private practice of obstetrics and gynecology, she faced a bleak prospect. The economy of the United States was still spiraling downward in the greatest depression in the nation's history. Among America's industrial cities, none was suffering more than Birmingham, which President Roosevelt later called "the worst hit town in the country."1

Even without the havoc of the Great Depression, Birmingham's class consciousness, racism, sexism, and violence made it an uninviting place for a professional woman. During her seven years of medical training in Baltimore, Philadelphia, England, Ireland, and France, colleagues had questioned the wisdom of Branscomb's plan to return to "'Bad Birmingham,' the city of minerals and murder" to practice medicine. Of the eight women in her medical school class, she would be the only one to establish a practice in the Southeast.2

Developments in the American medical profession also made her prospects bleak. In the late nineteenth century, the significant woman's medical movement had pried open the medical profession for women, establishing women's medical colleges and achieving medical coeducation at schools such as the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University. Optimistic expectations about the future of women in medicine had seemed well founded as the new century began.3 These developments, however, reached their peak in 1910, when women physicians represented 6 percent of all the physicians in the nation. From that time,

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