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For Mary Putnam Jacobi

January 4, 1907 — Memorial for Mary Putnam Jacobi, Academy of Medicine, New York City


It is a notable though a very sorrowful privilege to try, however inadequately, to express the debt which we, who are not of the medical profession, owe to Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi.

Every student who has since gone abroad has profited, consciously or unconsciously, by the dignity as well as the brilliancy of Dr. Jacobi’s career as a student in Paris.

Consciously or unconsciously, every woman who has enlisted on behalf of an unpopular cause in this city, in all these years, ahs profited by the moral courage and the splendid intellectual intrepidity which distinguished every year of Dr. Jacobi’s mature life.

If I may be permitted to speak on behalf of women who work, it has to be confessed that in this country they have not fared well during the past twenty years. They have not been given power to defend their own rights as in some of the more progressive English-speaking countries. Nor have they been granted protection as workers and as women, as in England and the more enlightened nations of the continent of Europe. They have received neither an extension of right nor any adequate protection. In this state, not many years ago, a federal judge held that a woman is not a citizen in the sense that she can vote. Within the past month, in this city, the Supreme Court has held that a working woman is a citizen in the sense that she cannot by statute be protected even in the moderate degree involved in prohibiting the manufacturer who employs her from requiring her to work in his factory between nine o’clock at night and six in the morning. For the purpose of protecting their own interests women in this state are not citizens. When, however, the attempt is made to protect their health by industrial legislation, they are told that this is impossible, because, to this extent, they are citizens. Thus they have neither political rights nor statutory protection.

The dominant quality of Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi’s mind, from her preciously intellectual childhood on, was readiness to follow whithersoever reason, her own reason, enlightened as well as it was possible for her to enlighten it form year to year, might lead. That led her into the suffrage movement before the Constitutional Convention of 1894. That led her to lend herself, her splendid gifts, most generously to help the women who work, in their early efforts to achieve trade organizations.

It is impossible to estimate the loss to the working women of this city this State, and this national invited by Dr. Jacobi’s too early departure. Had fate permitted her to finish the task which the splendid energy of her youth ad middle life promised, our position would, I am convinced, in one vitally important respect, be far more favorable. To-day we stand among the civilizations alone in our sorry lack of a literature of the relation of industry to disease and death. But for the unkind fate which has deprived us of her active help in these last years, it would surely not have ben possible for the Supreme Court of New York to say within a month: “It has not been shown to use, we have not been made aware that there is anything in the physical or nervous constitution of women which makes it more injurious for them to be required to work throughout the night than for me to be required so to work.

When those who have taken upon themselves the duty of speaking for the young working women engaged in manufacture and commerce turned to the literature of medicine to meet this statement, the fact became obvious that there exists no such literature. We have not in America a medical literature of the relation of labor to disease and death.

There should, of course, be generous memorial scholarships to enable women to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Jacobi in the medical profession. It is incumbent upon us all to carry forward as best we may the work to which for so many years she devoted faithful effort. She was, however, never content merely to go forward with that which was well begun. She was a pioneer in Paris, a pioneer in her practice, a pioneer in much of the teaching contained in the little volume, Common Sense Applied to Woman Suffrage. She was a pioneer among physicians in going among working women not merely to cure, but to help them to change industrial conditions which create the need for cure, to help them make conditions of work such that disease and death need not be forced upon them. No mere bestowal of money, no gifts of buildings in memory of Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi could be so characteristic, so in line with her own versatile effort, as the founding of such a literature, to which — had she been spared — she would certainly have contributed, that literature of “industry and disease” in which we are so shamefully, and in the case of working women to-day, so tragically lacking.



Source: In Memoriam: Mary Putnam Jacobi (New York: The Knickerbocker Press), 1907, pp. 26-30.