Marie Zakrzewska

Early Woman Medical Doctor

New England Hospital for Women and Children
New England Hospital for Women and Children. Courtesy Library of Congress

Marie Zakrzewska Facts

Known for: established the New England Hospital for Women and Children; worked with Elizabeth Blackwell and Emily Blackwell
Occupation: physician
Dates: September 6, 1829 – May 12, 1902
Also known as: Dr. Zak, Dr. Marie E. Zakrzewska, Marie Elizabeth Zakrzewska

Background, Family:

  • Mother: Caroline Fredericke Wilhelmina Urban: trained as a midwife, her mother was a veterinary surgeon
  • Father: Ludwig Martin Zakrzewska
  • Siblings: Marie Zakrzewska was the eldest of six siblings

Education:

  • Berlin School for Midwives – enrolled 1849, graduated 1852
  • Western Reserve College medical school, M.D. in 1856

Marie Zakrzewska Biography:

Marie Zakrzewska was born in Germany to a family of Polish background. Her father had taken a government position in Berlin.  Marie at age 15 cared for her aunt and great-aunt.  In 1849, following her mother’s profession, she trained as a midwife at the Berlin School for Midwives at the Royal Charite Hospital.  There, she excelled, and on graduation earned a post at the school as head midwife and professor in 1852.

Her appointment was opposed by many at the school, because she was a woman.  Marie left after just six months and, with a sister, moved to New York in March 1853.

New York

There, she lived in the German community doing piecework sewing.  Her mother and two other sisters followed Marie and her sister to America.

Zakrzewska became interested in other women’s rights issue and in abolition.  William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips were friends, as were some refugees from Germany’s 1848 social upheaval.

Zakrzewska met Elizabeth Blackwell in New York.  On finding out her background, Blackwell helped Zakrzewska get into Western Reserve’s medical training program.

Zakrzewska graduated in 1856.  The school had admitted women into their medical program starting in 1857; the year Zakrzewska graduated, the school stopped admitting women.

Dr. Zakrzewska went to New York as a resident physician, helping establish the New York Infirmary for Women and Children with Elizabeth Blackwell and her sister Emily Blackwell.  She also served as the instructor of nursing students, opened her own private practice, and at the same time served as the housekeeper for the Infirmary.  She became known to patients and staff as simply Dr. Zak.

Boston

When New England Female Medical College opened in Boston, Zakrzewska left New York for an appointment at the new college as professor of obstetrics.  In 1861, Zakrzewska helped to found the New England Hospital for Women and Children, staffed by women medical professionals, the second such institution, the first being the New York hospital founded by the Blackwell sisters.

She was involved with the hospital until her retirement.  She worked for a time as the resident physician and also served as head nurse. She also served in administrative positions.  Through her years of association with the hospital, she also maintained a private practice.

In 1872, Zakrzewska founded a nursing school associated with the hospital.  A noted graduate was Mary Eliza Mahoney, the first African American to work as a professional trained nurse in the United States. She graduated from the school in 1879.

Zakrzewska shared her home with Julia Sprague, in what might have been, to use a term not used until later years, a lesbian partnership; the two shared a bedroom.  The home was also shared with Karl Heinzen and his wife and child. Heinzen was a German immigrant with political ties to radical movements.

Zakrzewska retired from the hospital and her medical practice in 1899, and died May 12, 1902.