Beyond Barriers

Remembering the GW MD Program’s First Alumna, Clara Bliss Hinds, MD 1887
Clara Bliss Hinds photo on background of 19th Century GW building

In 1884, Clara Bliss Hinds, along with Ellen W. Cathcart, Sarah A. Schull, and Alice J. White, successfully appealed the administration of the George Washington University (then known as the Columbian College) for admission as the first female students in the school’s medical degree program. 

Bliss Hinds, a 32-year-old mother of a 3-year-old daughter when she began her medical training, was no stranger to the profession. Her father, Willard Bliss, MD, attended to James A. Garfield, 20th president of the United States, when he was fatally wounded following an assassination attempt in 1881.

“They were grinding years. Competing in what was then regarded as purely man’s work, we were doing what no woman had done in the school before us,” Bliss Hinds told Washington Post reporter Marion Butler in a June 6, 1936, article headlined “First Woman MD Here Fought Pioneer Battle,” which focused on Bliss Hinds’ groundbreaking admission to medical school. For decades, her admission distinguished GW as one of the few medical schools in the nation to admit women. 

Three years later, in 1887, Bliss Hinds was the only woman among 50 men to cross the stage at the Washington Congregational Church and receive her MD diploma. Following graduation, she partnered with Ida J. Heiberger, MD, to found the Washington Women’s Clinic in 1891. The practice would continue for more than 60 years providing medical care for women by women, according to the Records of the Columbia Historical Society. 

Bliss Hinds died on Oct. 31, 1940. She was 88 years old. She is buried at Rockville Union Cemetery in Rockville, Maryland.
 

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