Tingles and shivers run up and down my spine and out into my typing fingers. Pure unadulterated excitement and fear. I’m back from 5 days in Philadelphia, combining 3 days of work commitments with 2 vacation days dedicated to first-hand research. My notebook, photo gallery on my phone and heart are full. I’m excited to develop these notes into my novel-in-progress as new ideas popped up while I dove deep into the Drexel School of Medicine archives, spending 6 straight hours in a basement room. (Drexel absorbed the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania – WMC – in 1970).
- From the original Board of Trustees’ meeting minutes at the formation of the College in 1850 –all transcribed in my great-great- Grandfather Peirce’s hand as the Board secretary.
- To viewing a box of bones from the 1890s which the students had to rent for $5 a year for their study.
- To the Annual Announcements for the four years covered in my novel which noted where the 35-40 students per class hailed from around the US and the world, their tuition at $135 per year without any increases in four years (can you imagine?), suggested room and board could be secured for $4.50 a week at nearby boarding houses (isn’t that what a current medical student pays for one cup of coffee from Starbuck’s?)
- To hundreds of photographs now all digitized and online for easier review.
And, more and more and more. I am forever indebted to Matt and Sabrina at Drexel who pulled an entire cart of reference materials for me.
At the same time, I’m fearful I’ll end up with a 1,000 page book – there are so many details I could include for this time period of my main character’s life. And, perhaps even more fearful I’ll fail the subjects of my research in telling their story – the students of the WMC. The more I read about their time at WMC, before, during and after, I’ve become more involved in their stories. Their own fears, struggles and friendships. They were still pioneers at the turn of the century when only 5% of doctors were women with a degree from an accredited institution and only six hospitals outside of Philadelphia would consider their application for a resident position. And yet, many went on to remarkable medical careers all before they even had the right to vote.
I also had the chance to walk Philadelphia through the neighborhood where “Eliza” grew up to get a feel for her surroundings, although the home has long since been torn down, drank a beer at McGillin’s Olde Ale House, the oldest Irish pub in Philly to see a spot Daniel would visit, strode through City Hall where “Aunt Estelle” worked, and a trek to the cemetery to find the Peirce family plot.
An exhausting week, but at the same time, I’m energized. I’ll be starting in earnest next week on the opening scenes of these chapters.
The original meeting minutes of the WMC, 1850 – 1856. William S. Peirce, Esq., Secretary