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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

Doctor Elizabeth Follansbee

Elizabeth Follansbee was the first woman to be a member of the faculty at a medical school in California, also the first woman admitted as a member of the Los Angeles County Medical Association. Starting in 1885, she taught pediatrics and chaired the pediatrics department at the University of Southern California.

She came from an eminent East Coast family, but that didn’t prevent the male students from making her life miserable when she enrolled at the University of California medical school in 1875, as one of only two women students. After a year of endless indignities, she transferred to the more female-friendly University of Michigan and completed her degree in 1877, at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.

Returning to California after graduation, Elizabeth co-founded the Women and Children’s Hospital of San Francisco. In 1883, for health reasons, she relocated her practice to Los Angeles, and two years later joined the inaugurating faculty at the new USC medical school. Nevertheless, at this time women physicians were tolerated by their male peers only if they limited their practice to areas deemed suitable for women: treating women and children. Among her many efforts to provide a future for women in medicine, Dr. Follansbee arranged for women graduating from USC medical school to intern at Children’s Hospital in San Francisco, because it was the only West Coast facility that accepted female interns and residents.

During and after her career, Dr. Follansbee was active in women’s club circles and in the suffrage movement. She died at age 77 in a Los Angeles hospital on August 22, 1917, after an illness of many months, most of it spent unconscious. She was surrounded at the end by close friends and colleagues who, to help ease her suffering, provided every comfort and medical remedy known. In reporting her death, The Los Angeles Times noted that Elizabeth Follansbee had been a widely celebrated, beloved woman; a sure friend to every woman in distress, and a helpful companion to all men, women and children who needed help.

March is National Women’s History Month

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