Mary Elizabeth Garrett reading a book, portrait photograph circa 1910

Mary Elizabeth Garrett, portrait photograph circa 1910 (Chesney Medical Archives)

Building a pipleline for women's education

The movement for women’s rights in the United States did not begin with the well-known 1848 meeting in the New York town of Seneca Falls, but this was one of the first sites where activists and reformers gathered to organize formally. They composed a Declaration of Sentiments and a series of resolutions – concrete demands for the equal civic, economic, and legal rights of women, including a right to vote.

Suffrage leaders belonged to a generation of educated women from progressive families who were increasingly engaged in public life. The movement fractured and stalled after the Civil War, but women’s education laid the foundation for its revival.

Leaders Mary Elizabeth Garrett and M. Carey Thomas invested their lives and fortunes in teaching a new generation at Bryn Mawr College and at the Bryn Mawr School, a college preparatory school for girls which they established.

Garrett bankrolled the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine under the condition that it admit women according to rigorous academic standards. A path was opened from secondary school to women’s college to the medical profession, and many women followed it, becoming passionate suffragists along the way.