The toils of the art of healing

Dr. Alice Bennett wasn’t born in Montgomery County, but she made some very interesting contributions to the history of the county as well as the history of medicine.

Alice Bennett

She was born in Wrentham, Massachusetts, in 1851, but later came to Philadelphia to study at the first women’s medical school in the nation, the Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia.  She graduated as an MD in 1876.

Nineteenth-century women who became doctors faced much opposition.  The Philadelphia Medical Society passed a resolution in 1858, which read in part, “the Censors respectfully report that they would recommend the members of the regular profession to withhold from the faculties and graduates of female medical colleges, all countenance and support.”  Two years later, the Montgomery County Medical Society responded, “the time has fully come when women should not be excluded from the medical profession…there is no intrinsic reason why women should not perform a part of the toils of the art of healing.”


One of the doctors who signed that resolution was Dr. Hiram Corson of Plymouth Meeting.  Corson was a prominent Quaker physician who was one of the founders of the Montgomery County Medical Society and whose writings on treating pneumonia, diphtheria, and scarlet fever had gained national attention from the medical field.  In 1878, Corson, with two other doctors, argued that female asylum patients ought to be overseen by female physicians.

18308 Admin Build for the insane

Two years later, Dr. Alice Bennett became the first female superintendent of female patients at the newly opened State Hospital for the Insane in Norristown.  She was the first woman in such of position in the state of Pennsylvania.  That same year, Bennett was the first woman to earn a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania.

Female Convals Building State Hospital

As the superintendent of female patients, Bennett implemented many new practices including art classes, and she reduced the use of restraints.

In 1890, she was elected the woman president of the Montgomery County Medical Society.  Bennett eventually returned to Wrentham and maintained a private practice.  She died in 1925.