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Sarah Read Adamson Dolley


Sarah DolleySarah Read Adamson Dolley (1829-1909) was Rochester's first female physician and one of the first women in America to receive a medical degree. The bulk of the correspondence in the Dolley collection extends from 1872 until the year of her death in 1909. The collection was purchased from the Old Hickory Bookshop (Brinklow, Maryland) in February 1972. It was re-processed in July 1987. The Dolley correspondence is contained in eleven document boxes, and occupies four and a half linear feet.


Sarah Read Adamson was born at Schuylkill Meeting, Chester County, Pennsylvania on 11 March 1829, the third of five children born to Charles and Mary (Corson) Adamson. She initially studied medicine under the preceptorship of her uncle, Hiram Corson, M.D., of Plymouth Meeting, Pa. In November 1849, she was admitted to the Central Medical College (eclectic) in Syracuse, N.Y., from which she received her medical degree on 20 February 1851. In May of that year she became the first female intern in the United States at the Blockley Hospital in Philadelphia. Dr. Dolley took post-graduate training in Paris during the winter of 1869-70, and again attended medical clinics in Europe in the spring and summer of 1875.

On 9 June 1852 Sarah Read Adamson married Lester Clinton Dolley, M.D., Professor of Anatomy & Surgery at the Central Medical College, which by this time had moved to Rochester. They had two children: Loilyn, who died in infancy, and Charles Sumner Dolley (b. 1856), the major correspondent in the collection.

SRAD practiced medicine in Rochester with her husband until his death in 1872, and later in partnership with Anna Searing, M.D. With the exception of a course of lectures on obstetrics delivered at the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in the winter of 1873-74, Dr. Dolley spent her entire professional life in Rochester. In addition to her practice, she was active in the formation of the Provident Dispensary Association (established in 1886 by a group of Rochester women physicians "to provide free medical and surgical care for such women and children as shall need gratuitous services"); the Practitioners' Society (established in 1887, one of the earliest womens' medical societies in the United States); the Women's Medical Society of the State of New York; and the Rochester chapter of the Red Cross. The records of the first three organizations are included among the papers of Dr. Dolley's contemporary, Marion Craig Potter, M.D.

Sarah Read Adamson Dolley died at her home on East Avenue on 27 December 1909.

Organization of the Collection

The Dolley correspondence is divided into two series: letters written by SRAD (boxes 1-6, 1872-1909), and letters written to SRAD (boxes 7-10, 1863-1909). Almost the entirety of this abundant correspondence is between Dr. Dolley, her son, Charles Sumner Dolley (1856-1948), and her daughter-in-law Elizabeth (Gilman) Dolley. Very little of Dr. Dolley's correspondence pertains to her medical work, women in medicine, or her attitudes toward women's rights. In this regard, the most important letter in the entire correspondence is her description to her son dated 17 October 1904 of her medical education (box 6, folder 5). For the most part, however, Dr. Dolley's correspondence with her son is concerned with personal matters, family business, and her constant preoccupation with property and financial affairs.

In her biographical article on SRAD in NOTABLE AMERICAN WOMEN (I: 497-99), Genevieve Miller states, "Despite a close personal friendship with her fellow townswoman Susan B. Anthony, there is no evidence that Dr. Dolley was ever involved in the national struggle for women's political rights" (p.498). Although there are no Anthony letters in the Dolley correspondence, there are several references to "Susan" in SRAD's own correspondence. In a letter dated 11 January 1894, Dr. Dolley writes to her son about a suffrage meeting she attended in Rochester, "When Miss Anthony was getting out the call she made request that Dr. Searing & I should sign it because we were not publicly identified with the movement & last Sunday she was afraid there would be but few there, and sent word that we must sit on the platform. We did, but there was no lack of people or enthusiasm…" (box 3, folder 13).

Charles Sumner Dolley, the principal correspondent in the collection, was born on 16 June 1856 in Elyria, Ohio. He attended the Geneseo Academy, Geneseo, Livingston County, New York, and entered Syracuse University in 1878. In his third year he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his medical degree in 1882. He did post-graduate work in comparative morphology at Johns Hopkins (1883-84), and was sent by the University of Pennsylvania to study marine biology at the University of Leipzig and at the zoological station in Naples in 1884-85. He taught biology at Swarthmore (1885-88), at the University of Pennsylvania (1885-92), and at the Central High School in Philadelphia (1892-1907). He later went into business as a consultant in applied biology and did work in sanitation and chemical engineering in Mexico City and the Bahamas.

Charles Sumner Dolley married Elizabeth G. Gilman of Groveland, N.Y. in 1876. They had three children: Gilman Corson, Loilyn Carlotta, and Lester Adamson, all born in Rochester. C.S. Dolley died at Nassau, the Bahamas, B.W.I. on 10 July 1948.

Miscellaneous biographical and genealogical material on Sarah Read Adamson Dolley, Lester Clinton Dolley, and Charles Sumner Dolley is contained in box 10, folders 22-26.

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