Today, nearly 300 women attend Washington University School of Medicine, making up approximately 50 percent of the student body. One hundred years ago this month, the School of Medicine admitted its first women medical students.
In January of 1918 the question of allowing women to enter the School was brought before the Executive Faculty – the governance committee made from the School’s department heads. With the United States’ participation in the First World War, there was a shortage of men enrolling in medical schools and entering post-graduate medical residencies. The Council of National Defense had made an inquiry with Washington University recommending that the School of Medicine consider enrolling women.
Though the School’s Departments of Pediatrics and Medicine had been accepting women physicians as residents and junior faculty, the General Faculty – a committee comprised of the School of Medicine’s faculty– rejected a proposal to accept women students even after considering a compromise that would have allowed women to be admitted on a 10 to 1 ratio of men to women. The Executive Faculty then voted in agreement with the General Faculty to continue prohibiting women from enrolling in the medical degree program. Two women who had applied to the School that winter had their applications rejected.
However, on February 15, 1918, Grace Jones, the President of Saint Louis Children’s Hospital, sent a letter to the Dean of the School which made the Executive Faculty change course. Jones was one of the members of the Council of National Defense who had recommended the University accept women medical students. Also, as President of Children’s Hospital, she was well aware that women physicians were welcomed by the Hospital and the School’s own Department of Pediatrics. Jones wrote:
“When I am asked both by the Council of National Defense and the Board of Children’s Hospital at their next meeting what the decision of the University has been with regard to their recommendations, what shall I say? Shall I say that a perfectly competent physician, a woman, has been made a Resident of the Children’s Hospital and that the Faculty of the Medical Departments of the Washington University have approved this appointment; the inference is that they regard the medical education of women to be not only desirable but necessary at this time. Has the Faculty made their decision with regard to this question?”
The Dean and Executive Faculty sent a copy of this letter to the next meeting of the General Faculty and recommended the group reconsider their original decision. By a narrow margin the recommendation that women be allowed to enroll in the School of Medicine passed in the General Faculty and was quickly adopted by the Executive Faculty, becoming official policy on April 3rd, 1918.
The first woman admitted as a medical student at Washington University was Carol Skinner Cole. She had been one of the women denied admittance to the School that winter. She entered as a freshman along with Aphrodite Jannopoulo. On the day she enrolled for courses, Aphrodite wrote in her diary, “At last my dreams are realized, and I registered in the medical school this morning. Mrs. Cole is the only other coed, so we will have to face the storm alone.” Cole received her degree in June 1922. Jannopoulo completed her medical coursework in 1922 and received her medical degree in 1923.
The first woman to graduate from the School of Medicine was Faye Cashatt, who transferred into the School as a third-year student in 1919 and received her degree in June 1921.