In the late 19th century, Jamaica Plain was home to two immigrant women who were pioneers in the medical profession. Dr. Marie Zakrzewska (1829-1902) and Dr. Mary Morey Pearson (1861-1931) exemplify the bold part immigrant women have played in developing medical care at a time when women were fighting for their rights on multiple fronts.
Dr. Zakrzewska was born to Polish parents in Berlin in 1829. There she developed a successful career as a midwife. Yet frustrated by limited opportunities for women, she came to the US in 1853 and managed to gain admission to Cleveland’s all-male Western Reserve College where she received a medical degree in 1856. She moved to Boston in 1859 to become a professor of obstetrics at the New England Female Medical College. She settled in Jamaica Plain and became active in feminist and abolitionist circles in the area. Stymied at the New England Female Medical College in her attempts to expand the medical field for women beyond obstetrics, she resigned.
Undaunted, in 1862 she launched the New England Hospital for Women and Children. The second hospital in the United States to be run by women, its foundation was a major leap forward. It expanded medical services available to women and to poorer populations, and it served as a training hospital for generations of women doctors and nurses. Now called Dimock Community Health Center, Dr. Zakrewka’s hospital continues to serve the Boston community.
Dr. Mary Morey Pearson was born in 1861 in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to a sea captain from Maine and a Ceylonese mother. What little we know about her life suggests she was a strong free-thinking woman. In 1885, she received her degree in medicine from Boston University School of Medicine. An early advocate and practician of homeopathic medicine, then considered an unorthodox field, she organized funds to open the first homeopathic dispensary in Boston. She married an immigrant from Nova Scotia and together they settled in Jamaica Plain, where she became a well-known doctor.
Committed to civic and professional life, Dr. Pearson became the medical head of the American Benefit Society and a member of Advisory Council of the National Women’s Liberty Loan Program, the Massachusetts Homeopathic Medical Society, and the Boston Homeopathic Society. As a woman of color, she was subjected to racism. In 1912, her husband was put on trial for beating a man who called her racist names. Pearson died at the age of 70 in her Jamaica Plain home.
Miller, Heather. “Mary Morey Pearson, MD.” Jamaica Plain Historical Society, August 2021.