Wiley Corbett, M.D.
She is Renowned as America's First Woman to
An obituary in the New York Times says,
“Elizabeth Wiley Corbett was widely known as the
first (American) woman doctor.” She began
practicing medicine when she was about 22 and
continued until her death. ■ Elizabeth Jane
Wiley was born July 10, 1833, on a farm near
Kent, Indiana. She was Scottish on both sides of
her family. Her great grandfather emigrated to
Virginia just before the American Revolution.
Her mother was a Maxwell whose forebears
included Weirs and Campbells from southern
Scotland. ■ Higher education for women was not
commonplace in America during the early 1800s.
Elizabeth was expected to stay home sewing,
weaving, cooking, and scrubbing while her
brothers attended school. She read their
textbooks and soon was being tutored by her
self-educated father, Preston P. Wiley. When her
mother was stricken with typhoid, she determined
at age 14 that she was going to be a physician
to alleviate suffering. ■ Refused admission to
the nearby all-male Hanover College because she
was female, she entered Antioch College in Ohio.
Here she had a chance to meet the famed educator
Horace Mann, the college president. Finishing
there, she enrolled in a small uncertified
medical school in New York. She moved to San
Francisco and started her medical practice. It
was not until 1870 that she received her M.D.
degree from the University of Michigan. ■ She
married another physician, Dr. Samuel Corbett,
and spent much of her later life fighting the
entrenched prejudice against women doctors. Much
of her time was devoted to the medical problems
of women and children in gynecology, obstetrics,
and pediatrics. She died in Washington, D. C.,
on June 4, 1916.
Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546