Episode 28. Cells & Periods: The Adventures of Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi

It’s the 1800s and the realm of medicine hasn’t quite adjusted to modern thought quite yet. Physicians still believe that dirty air is what is causing that rash on your arm and that when you menstruate, your brain is too exhausted and confused to hold a job. That is at least until Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi comes along. Dr. Putnam Jacobi would work most of her life advocating for biochemically based medicine and evidence driven theories about women. Not only that, but she also worked to ensure women receive the same medical education as men and children have their own place within a hospital. Join us this week to talk about the amazing life of Dr. Putnam Jacobi and learn about how her bravery to stand up and fight for the things she cared about continues to have a positive impact on us all today.

Feminist Corner:

Mary argued that women could work while menstruating and that the pain/discomfort of periods should not stop a woman from working. But what about the women who do experience a high level of pain and discomfort? How should women in modern society face work, sick leave, etc when menstruation gets in the way of their day?

Listen to the episode, discuss these questions with friends and family, let us know what you think!

Show Notes:

In this episode we will talk about Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi through her journey entering medicine in the 1800s and the political grounds she stood on that changed women’s lives for years to come.

Dr. Jacobi came from a successful family whose careers flourished as authors, librarians, and publishers. So when Mary decided to go into medicine it was a bit of a shock for the family. But unfortunately due to the time, there were no medical schools in New York that would take a female student. So instead Mary went to pharmacy school which gave her some time to wait for the world to grow, so that eventually Mary could go to medical school. Which she did, Mary graduated in 1864 from the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania. 

After graduation however, Mary felt unprepared to practice. So following the new medical movement based on cellular research, Mary moved to Paris, France. While in Paris, she worked in a research lab that would go down in history. Eventually, Mary accumulated enough experience and letters behind her name that the prestigious Ecole de Medicine of Paris admitted her. After graduating, Mary finally felt ready to practice medicine and she moved back to the United States. 

In her medical career, Mary opened multiple children’s hospitals and wards within New York and taught pediatric infectious disease for many years. Mary was also extremely involved as an advocate. She advocated for germ theory and other forms of medical practice that focused on the cellular biology that plays into disease. And she also advocated for women’s rights by publishing her own data on why menstruation does not cloud a woman’s mind, a theory that held women back (and still does) in the career portion of her life. 

Mary worked tirelessly throughout her life, publishing over 1oo papers by the time she died of a brain tumor. Going back to her author roots, Mary even wrote a case report on her own experience having cancer. Needless to say, Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi’s life was nothing but adventurous.


Beck, J. (2016, April 21). Women Astronauts: To Menstruate or Not to Menstruate. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/04/menstruating-in-space/479229/

Changing the Face of Medicine | Mary Corinna Putnam Jacobi. (2015, June 03). Retrieved from https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_163.html

DeBakcsy, D., Dale DeBakcsy is the writer and artist of the Women In Science and Cartoon History of Humanism columns, Wysk, & Name*. (2020, March 18). The Experimentalist: The Tale Of Mary Putnam Jacobi Vs. Proper Victorian Medicine. Retrieved from https://womenyoushouldknow.net/mary-putnam-jacobi-vs-victorian-medicine/

Koren, M. (2019, July 10). The Pioneering Female Doctor Who Argued Against Rest. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/07/menstruation-women-suffrage-voting-nineteenth-amendment/593260/

Little, B. (2021, May 04). The Scientist Who Said Periods Weren’t a Big Deal. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/160308-international-womens-day-history-month-periods-education-science

Mary Putnam Jacobi. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Mary-Putnam-Jacobi

Mary Putnam Jacobi. (2020, May 31). Retrieved from https://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2015/06/mary-putnam-jacobi.html

Pandey, G. (2019, July 05). Why are menstruating women in India removing their wombs? Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-48836690

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