American Medical Biographies/Hunt, Harriot Kezia

Hunt, Harriot Kezia (1805–1875).

Harriot Kezia, the first woman to practise medicine in America, was a Bostonian, pedigreed, born and bred, the daughter of Joab Hunt and Kezia Wentworth. She was born in 1805. When her father died in 1827 his estate was found to be encumbered and self-support became necessary. A private school started by Miss Hunt and her sister brought money but she felt it was not her vocation. The care of her sister during a protracted illness drew her attention to medicine; she procured medical books and pursued investigations with the conviction that much of the ordinary practice was blind and merely experimental.

In 1833 she entered the family of a Dr. and Mrs. Mott. The doctor left the care of most female patients to his wife; this care Miss Hunt shared, and by the opportunity thus afforded, supplemented theoretical knowledge by clinical observation. In 1835 she opened a consulting-room and assumed the responsibility of practising without a medical diploma— reprehensible, but a course justified by subsequent events, for when in 1847 Miss Hunt requested permission to attend lectures at the Harvard Medical School—stating "that after twelve years' practice which had become extensive, it would be evident to them that the request must proceed from no want of patronage, but simply from a desire for such scientific knowledge as could be imparted by their professors"—her request was promptly refused. After the graduation of Elizabeth Blackwell at Geneva in 1849, "Miss Hunt thought the times might be more favorable and in 1850 repeated her application at Harvard. In mobile America great changes of sentiment can be effected in three years— five out of the seven members of the faculty voted that Miss Hunt be admitted to the lectures on the usual terms. But, on the eve of success, Miss Hunt's cause was shipwrecked by collision and entanglement with that of another of those unenfranchised to the privileges of learning. At the beginning of the session two colored men had appeared among the students and created by their presence intense dissatisfaction. When, as if to crown this outrage it was announced that a woman was also about to be admitted, the students felt their cup of humiliation was full and in indignation boiled over in a general meeting. The compliant faculty bowed their heads to the storm, and to avoid the obloquy of rejecting under pressure a perfectly reasonable request, advised the female student to withdraw her petition. This she did, and the majesty of Harvard, already endangered by the presence of the negro, was saved from the further peril of the woman. Miss Hunt returned to her private medical practice which, though unsanctioned by law and condemned by learning, steadily increased and with such success that she became widely known."

In 1853 the Woman's Medical College of Philadelphia gave her the honorable M. D. In 1856 she wrote "Glances and Glimpses, or Fifty Years' Social including Twenty Years' Professional Life." She died in Boston, January 2, 1875.

International Rev., Oct., 1879. J. R. Chadwick.
"Woman's Work in America." Mary Putnam Jacobi.
"Emin. Women of the Age," 1872. Rev. H. R. Elliot.