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Dr. Elizabeth Follansbee
First Woman Physician in Los Angeles

Dr. Elizabeth Follansbee

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the first woman physician to practice medicine in Southern California was Dr. Elizabeth A. Follansbee (1839-1917). She began her medical education at the University of California in San Francisco, but, after suffering there the endless indignities of hazing by fellow male students, transferred to the more woman-friendly University of Michigan Medical School. She was licensed in 1877 and moved back to San Francisco, where she worked with several other woman physicians at the woman-founded Children's Hospital of San Francisco.

For health reasons, Dr. Follansbee later moved her practice to Los Angeles in 1883. In 1885, she joined the inaugurating faculty at the new medical school at USC as a professor of pediatrics, the first woman faculty member at a medical school in California. Woman physicians were not fully accepted by male peers at this time. They were tolerated only as long as they limited their treatment to women and children. Among Dr. Follansbee's pioneering efforts were to arrange for woman USC medical graduates to intern at Children's Hospital in San Francisco because it was the only West Coast hospital accepting female interns and residents.

Dr. Follansbee died in poverty at Los Angeles County Hospital. This remarkable woman was, according to her obituary, "noted for her liberality and friendship to any woman in distress." She had apparently given away most of her income to charity.

Special thanks for research by Helen Haskell and Cindy McNaughton (Los Angeles Public Library), Mike Germroth (MCLS Reference Center) and Cecilia Rasmussen (LA Times).