‘HEADERS’ HISTORY: Dr. Jane Smith Devereux, the town’s first female physician

Dr. Jane Smith Devereux was born in Marblehead in 1858. She is the fifth great-granddaughter of John Devereux (1615-1695) of Marblehead. Her parents are Samuel Devereux (1834-1878) and Hannah Devereux (1834-1908).

Dr. Jane Smith Devereux was born in Marblehead in 1858. COURTESY PHOTO / MARBLEHEAD HISTORICAL COMMISSION

She first applied to Harvard Medical School but was rejected because of her gender. (The first woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School did so in 1945.) She later earned her medical degree from Boston University Medical School in 1880.

Harriot Kezia Hunt and Harvard Medical School

Harriot Kezia Hunt might not be a familiar name today, but she was a forerunner in pushing for women’s inclusion in the U.S. medical profession — 40 years before Devereux attended medical school. Hunt was born in Boston in 1805.

In the early 1830s, a prolonged illness of Hunt’s sister led both of them to study physiology, focusing on hygiene, diet, bathing, rest and exercise. Their methods were particularly effective with ailments that other doctors couldn’t treat.

In the 1840s, Hunt founded the Ladies Physiological Society, offering lectures for women on physiology and hygiene. In 1847, after learning about Elizabeth Blackwell’s acceptance to Geneva Medical College in New York, Hunt sought to attend Harvard Medical College but was turned away.

She spent several years lecturing on women’s rights. Although Harvard admitted her in 1850, protests from male students stopped her from attending.

In 1853, in acknowledgment of her pioneering efforts, the Female Medical College of Philadelphia granted her an honorary medical degree.

She released her autobiography, “Glances and Glimpses,” in 1856. After continuing her medical practice and feminist advocacy, Hunt passed away in 1875.

Jane Smith Devereux and medical education

Devereux attended Boston University School of Medicine in the 1870s, which took over the New England Female Medical College in 1873. She graduated in 1880.

In the 1890s, Devereux and several Marblehead residents, including Grace Oliver, S. Linton Bell, Mary Graves, Mary A. Alley and Eleanor Goldthwaite, founded the Visiting Nurses Association in Marblehead.

In the late 19th century, district nurse associations started emerging in the Northeast U.S., inspired by the British District Nurse model. Early associations were founded in cities like New York in 1886, Philadelphia in 1887 and Chicago in 1889.

In the 1930s, the Marblehead School Committee named Devereux as the school doctor for the Roads School. She died in 1940 at 82 and was interred at Waterside Cemetery with her parents and sister.

Mark Hurwitz
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