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The Society’s first women members take an active role


At this year’s Annual Meeting, the Wisconsin Medical Society will inaugurate Barbara A. Hummel, MD, of West Allis, as its fifth woman president. But women have taken an active role in the Society since 1885—believed to be the first year women joined the Society.

One of those early members was Laura J. Ross Wolcott, MD, of Milwaukee. She moved to Wisconsin in 1857 after graduating from the Women’s Medical College in Pennsylvania in 1856 and is considered the first woman physician in the state. But Dr. Wolcott has another Society connection—her husband, Erastus B. Wolcott, MD, was one of the Society’s original 13 members.

“The minute she married him, she became a major figure professionally and socially,” former Society CEO Earl Thayer said in a 2005 profile of Dr. Laura Wolcott, published in the Wisconsin Academy Review.

Along with Dr. Wolcott, the Society’s Board of Censors approved the membership of Sarah R. Munro, MD, and Harriet F. Sercombe, MD, both of Milwaukee, and Margaret Caldwell, MD, of Waukesha at the Society’s 1885 Annual Meeting. Doctor Caldwell went on to present several papers at subsequent Annual Meetings, including a paper titled “Pelvic Cellulitis” in 1886.

Lucy E. Ermine, MD, of Royalton, joined the Society two years later and was listed as one of the members of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Standing Committee that same year. By 1893 the Society had women members serving on two committees. Doctor Caldwell was a member of the Committee of Gynecology, and Julia P. Kelley, MD, and Cora A. Turner, MD, who both became members in 1892, were serving on the Committee on Pediatrics.

Test your knowledge

In 1973, this Society member became the first woman officer of the Society when she was elected vice speaker of the State Medical Society House of Delegates. Who was she? If you know the answer or want to take a guess, e-mail Jennifer Wieman by noon Wednesday, March 16. Good luck!

Thomas Zoch, MD, correctly answered last week’s trivia question: What Society member, who served as president in the 1870s, was known as the “great master of abdominal surgery?” The answer is Nicholas Senn, MD, of Milwaukee. In 1960, the Society unveiled a historical marker honoring Dr. Senn at the corner where his laboratory once was in Milwaukee.

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