Author: Tran Luu
Born to George Palmer Putnam and Victorine Haven Putnam in 1842 in London, England, Mary Putnam received a home education from her mother from the very start before moving on towards a private school in New York City, where the family had chosen to move to after Mary turned 4 years old. Throughout her life, Mary Putnam published many articles and journals, some of which won her very prestigious awards, and the start of it all was an essay she published in the Atlantic Weekly (April 1860 edition) when she was just 17.
With help from Ann Preston, Mary Putnam was able to receive higher education at the New York College of Pharmacy (and became the first woman to receive a diploma there) and then moved on to receive her M.D. at the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania. Ann Preston helped convince the faculty at the medical school to allow Mary Putnam to sit in on exams early, which later led to the resignation of Dean Edwin Fussell due to the huge protests that happened because of this allowance. Ann Preston then stepped up to become the first female dean of a medical school ever.
Mary Putnam’s first gig in her career as a doctor was with Marie Zakrzewska, who opened the New England Hospital for Women and Children. 4 years later in 1866, Mary Putnam decided to move to Paris to further her education. While there, she was a strong proponent for equality in education quality for both men and women. She argued that the resources provided at female-only universities were not on par with the ones available at the prestigious universities that males were allowed to go to, which all have affiliations with big hospitals.
When Putnam came back to New York, she established her own Association for the Advancement of the Medical Education of Women, and she lectured at several medical schools during her lifetime to raise awareness about the disparity between educational standards for men and women.
During this time period, Putnam got married to Dr. Abraham Jacobi, who later became known as the “father of pediatrics." He was a strong supporter of his wife and later propelled her into the medical societies of New York.
In 1876, Mary Putnam Jacobi published “The Question of Rest for Women during Menstruation,” which talked about how the physical limitations imposed on women during their menstruation cycles were untrue, aka a direct opponent of Dr. Edward H. Clarke’s article on whether the expansion of women into the different professions were fair given their “limitations.” Mary Putnam Jacobi’s article contained different statistical data and empirical evidence, which made her study both credible and reliable, and it won her the Boylston Prize at Harvard University and offered her a prestigious recognition for her reputation in medical societies at the time.
Later on, Mary Putnam Jacobi gained memberships to both the New York Pathological Society and the New York Academy of Science, which raised her reputation to the point where she was able to enter the Academy of Medicine as its first female member with a majority of one vote. Before she died at age 63, Mary Putnam Jacobi published an article detailing her experience with her illness in order to help advance medical research on the cause and cure for her illness, and at her funeral, many notable physicians came to pay her their respect.
Fun Fact: Despite Mary Putnam Jacobi and Abraham Jacobi’s reputations as famous physicians, 2⁄3 of their children died in their childhood, leaving only 1 surviving child.
“Changing the Face of Medicine | Mary Corinna Putnam Jacobi.” Nih.Gov, 2015, cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_163.html. Accessed 12 Sept. 2020.
nyamhistory. “NYAM’s First Female Fellow: Mary Putnam Jacobi.” Books, Health and
History, Books, Health and History, 15 May 2019,
Accessed 13 Sept. 2020.
Really cool person, glad I know more about her. Especially "The Question of Rest for Women During Menstruation", I didn't know that people assumed menstruating women were practically invalid in the 1800s! It's details like that which make you appreciate the work of early women's rights advocates.
Really great detailed article!