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Sewall, Lucy Ellen (1837–1890)

Sewall, Lucy Ellen (1837–1890)

American physician and feminist. Born in April 1837 in Roxbury, Massachusetts; died on February 13, 1890; elder of two daughters of Samuel Edmund Sewall and Louisa Maria (Winslow) Sewall; graduated from New England Female Medical College, 1862; never married; no children.

Lucy Ellen Sewall was one of the first women to become a medical doctor in the United States. She was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1837 and grew up in a prominent, liberal New England family. Her mother Louisa Winslow Sewall , who came from a family of well-off Quakers in Portland, Maine, was an abolitionist. Her father Samuel E. Sewall, who served in the Massachusetts Senate, was also an active abolitionist as well as a firm advocate of women's rights. In 1850, when Lucy was 13, her mother died; her father would marry his sister-in-law, Harriet Winslow List , in 1857.

After meeting Dr. Marie Zakrzewska , who became the chair of obstetrics at the New England Hospital for Women, Sewall decided to pursue a medical career. She enrolled in the New England Female Medical College in Boston in 1859, graduated in 1862, and then studied for a year in London and Paris. Upon her return in 1863, she became resident physician of the New England Hospital for Women and Children. She spent much of her time with poor women and was well respected for her work in obstetrics. In 1869, she resigned her residency to become one of two attending physicians at the hospital and devote more time to her private practice. In 1881, Sewall and a group of seven other women physicians offered Harvard University $50,000 to provide medical study for women. The university declined the offer.

Sewall suffered from poor health most of her life, and she died of a heart condition in 1890 at age 52. In 1892, a new maternity building at the New England Hospital for Women and Children was dedicated to Sewall and her father, who had been a director and trustee of the institution.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Deborah Conn , freelance writer, Falls Church, Virginia

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