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Cleveland, Emeline Horton (1829–1878)

Cleveland, Emeline Horton (1829–1878)

American physician and the first woman on record to perform major surgery. Born Emeline Horton in Ashford, Connecticut, on September 22, 1829; died of tuberculosis in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 8, 1878; graduated from Oberlin College, 1853; M.D. from the Female (later Woman's) Medical College of Pennsylvania, 1855; advanced training in obstetrics at the school of the Maternité hospital in Paris, 1860–1861; married Rev. Giles B. Cleveland, in March 1854; children: son (b. 1865).

Born in 1829 in Connecticut, Emeline Horton grew up in Madison County, New York, from 1831. She attended local schools and then worked as a teacher to earn money so that she could attend college. After graduating from Oberlin College in 1853, she married a childhood friend and fellow Oberlin graduate, Reverend Giles Cleveland. Her husband's ill health prevented them from pursuing their plan to become missionaries; it also meant that the couple would rely on Emeline's earnings as their main source of income. In 1855, she received her M.D. from the Female (later Woman's) Medical College of Pennsylvania. Following a year of private practice in New York's Oneida valley, Cleveland became a demonstrator of anatomy at the Female Medical College (1856) before being named professor of anatomy and histology.

The support of the college's Dr. Ann Preston helped Cleveland to take advanced training (1860–1861) in obstetrics at the school of the Maternité in Paris, from which she received a diploma. She returned to the college (rechartered Woman's Medical College) as chief resident, a position she was to hold until 1868. Her early efforts included the establishment of training courses for nurses and, in a pioneering venture, for nurses aides. Cleveland established an outstanding reputation among her male colleagues, several of whom consulted her and one of whom read a paper of Cleveland's to the Philadelphia Obstetrical Society. While carrying on an extensive private practice, she also served as professor of obstetrics and diseases of women and children. Finally admitted as a member of several local medical societies, Cleveland was responsible for helping women physicians gain acceptance to societies that had vehemently resisted the entrance of women into the male-dominated field of medicine. Her service at the college culminated with her succeeding Dr. Preston as dean, and she served in this capacity from 1872 to 1874. Cleveland has historical significance as the first woman physician on record to practice as a surgeon, which she did in 1875, at age 46, with her first of several ovariotomies. She was appointed gynecologist to the department for the insane at Pennsylvania Hospital in 1878. That year, she died of tuberculosis on December 8.

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