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Fowler, Lydia Folger (1822–1879)

Fowler, Lydia Folger (1822–1879)

Physician who was the second American woman to receive an M.D. degree. Born Lydia Folger in Nantucket, Massachusetts, in 1822; died in London, England, in 1879; daughter and one of seven children of Gideon (a businessman and farmer) and Eunice (Macy) Folger; attended Nantucket schools; attended Wheaton Seminary, Norton, Massachusetts, 1838–39; attended Central Medical College, Syracuse, and later Rochester, New York, 1849–50, M.D., 1850; married Lorenzo Fowler (a noted phrenologist), in 1844; children: one daughter, Jessie Fowler .

One of seven children, Lydia Folger Fowler was born in 1822, grew up on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, and attended Wheaton Seminary, where she stayed on as a teacher. In 1844, she married Lorenzo Fowler, a noted phrenologist (one who studies character and mental capacity through the conformation of the skull), after which she became a writer and itinerant lecturer, speaking to women on health and phrenology. In 1849, she enrolled at Central Medical College, receiving her M.D. in 1850, and thus becoming the second American woman after Elizabeth Blackwell to receive that degree. While still a student, Fowler had been appointed head of the school's "Female Department," and upon graduation she became a "demonstrator" of anatomy to female students. In 1851, one year before Central Medical College closed its doors, she was promoted to professor of midwifery and diseases of women and children.

From 1852 to 1860, Fowler practiced medicine in New York City, lectured, and became involved in a number of reform causes, including women's rights and temperance. In 1860, she left for a yearlong study of medicine in Paris and London, returning to New York to teach midwifery at the New York Hygeio-Therapueutic College. Around 1864, she and her husband moved to London, where she spend the rest of her life engaged in various causes. She died there of pneumonia at the age of 56.

Fowler's writings include Familiar Lessons on Astronomy, Designed for the Use of Children and Youth (1948), Familiar Lessons on Phrenology, Designed for the Use of Schools and Families (n.d.), and Familiar Lessons on Physiology, Designed for the Use of Children and Youth in Schools and Families (1948). Much of her work, however, especially in her later years, writes Marilyn Ogilvie, "involved medical ideas that were not acceptable to most physicians at the time and have since been dismissed." Even so, notes Ogilvie, Fowler was a trailblazer in opening up the medical profession to women and providing health education to those who might not otherwise have received it.


Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey. Women in Science. Boston, MA: Cambridge Press, 1993.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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