First Female Medical School Graduate?
First Female Medical Practitioner in Virginia

Note: Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell is nationally proclaimed the first woman in the United States to receive a medical degree, which was granted in 1849 by Geneva College. - Dr. Eliza C. Hughes commenced the study of medicine in 1855, and graduated at the Pennsylvania Medical College at Philadelphia in 1860. Despite the statement in the following biography, Dr. Hughes was apparently NOT the first female medical school graduate but, rather, was the first woman graduate who practiced medicine in Virginia.

Compiled by Linda Cunningham Fluharty

      Dr. Eliza Clark Hughes was the daughter of Thomas Hughes and Mary von Odenbaugh. She was the among the first female medical school graduates and was the first female medical practitioner in the state of Virginia.

      Dr. Alfred Hughes, Eliza's brother, was imprisoned for eight months at Camp Chase, Ohio during the Civil War, with his release occurring 25 Dec 1862. He was considered a traitor to the Union and was held as a political prisoner. During that period, he received numerous letters, many of which were auctioned on eBay in 2004. A letter written by Eliza is presented on this page.


"History of the Upper Ohio Valley,"
Vol. I, pages 581-582; Brant & Fuller, 1890.

     Eliza Hughes, a sister of the late Dr. Alfred Hughes, was born in Wheeling, and received a thorough English and collegiate education. Her desire for the study of medicine was first awakened by the reading of the medical works in her brother's library. Although always most eager and earnest in the perusal of such matters, it was long before she entertained the idea of entering upon a regular course of professional study; and even after having formed the resolution it was with no definite intention of practicing. When the thought was first suggested to her mind, she did not give it expression. Knowing the prejudice widely entertained against women adopting such an occupation in life, she shrank from the remarks the decision would give rise to; but her purpose once acknowledged, her determination did not falter, notwithstanding the pressure of opposition. Having resolved to adopt the medical profession, she commenced the study of medicine in 1855. Attended a course of lectures at the Homoeopathic Medical college of Cleveland, Ohio, and later a second course at the Pennsylvania Medical college (Homoeopathic) at Philadelphia, where she graduated in 1860, which she returned to Wheeling and established herself as a medical practitioner. She was the first female graduate of any medical school, and the pioneer of her sex in the practice of medicine in the state of Virginia. Although devoted to her profession, in which an extended practice gave many duties, she nevertheless contributed much literary matter to the press, being known both as an authoress and poetress. She died in Wheeling, W. Va., in May, 1882, aged sixty-five years.


Wheeling Register, May 29, 1882 -- Sudden Death -- Doctress Eliza Hughes of this city, died suddenly at Portland, Ohio, late Saturday evening. Doctress Hughes left this city in apparently good health at 5 O'clock on a professional visit and at 6:30 PM she was stricken with apoplexy and died almost immediately. Miss Hughes has been a homeopathic physician here for a number of years, and was widely and well known. She was rather advanced in years. She was a sister of Thomas Hughes, Esq. of Baltimore, who has been notified of her death.

Wheeling Intelligencer, May 30, 1882 -- Death of Miss Eliza Hughes, M. D. -- Miss Eliza Hughes, M. D., the well-known lady homeopathist, left the city Saturday afternoon to visit one of her patients who lived near Portland, Ohio. Shortly after six o'clock, intelligence reached her friends here that she had suddenly died, at about six o'clock, not far from Portland station. The cause was at first supposed to be apoplexy, but yesterday it was stated that an electrical shock received during the heavy thunder storm was the inducing cause. Miss Hughes was a sister of Mr. Thomas Hughes, and had attained quite an eminent position in the practice of homeopathy, being particularly successful in treating children. Her services were in great demand for miles around Wheeling, and she had won the confidence and esteem of a wide and numerous circle of acquaintances, all of whom will be shocked to hear of her sudden demise. Her body was brought to the city yesterday afternoon and the funeral will take place from the residence of a relative on Main street tomorrow afternoon.


(Letter owned by Linda Fluharty)

(Dr. Alfred Hughes was imprisoned for 8 months; released 25 Dec 1862)

     My Dear Brother:
     Yours of the 29, ult(?) came in due time but I was in the Country. Aunt Cynthia sent for me again on Saturday morning and I left home at 1.PM remained untill next day at 1.PM got home. When I left her she could breath with more ease and seemed better but how long it will last it is impossible to tell, the family thought on Friday before I went there that she would die before morning they had all gathered around her expecting every breath to be her last. They told me her constant prayer during her critical state was that she might be spared to see her husband then she would go without a murmur.
     When I was about to leave her she said very earnestly, "Come back when I send for you as it is my last request that you be with me when I die." I do all I can to encourage her to hope and look forward to a recovery. She had gone through so much sickness that I still hope for the best. She told me to send her love to you and that she would be so glad to see you and hear your opinion of her hope that she might live to see Mr Martin she clings so tenaciously to that one object. I have tried a number of remedies for those smothing and sinking spells but Nux(?) seems to be the best in her case - if it fails what shall I resort to? She is so anxious for me to write to Mr Martin to tell him how ill she has been, without mentioning how ill she is now, and to tell him you are a prisoner and that I am attending to her. I expect it is too late for a letter to reach him in time for him to get it.
     Jack's wife seems to have caused a good deal of disturbance in the family. Aunt Cynthia desires to remain with her daughter, Lizzie, although she is deprived of all her home comforts. Jack is very anxious to have her at home but she is not able and has no desire to go. I wish she was at home it would be more convenient for me to see her.
     Mr Marshall(?) child has such a offensive diareah(?) and the remedies appear to have no effect, I will try ----(?) to drugs, what had I better give. Mary wants me to turn the child over to Dr. Kiger for if it dies a certificate would be required and she is afraid for me to be in the Office - as I am so closely watched since being arrested. I don't want to bring any one into trouble. If I could do only Office practice then I would take out license? as I would not have to risk expenses I could not meet, but you know persons would expect me to come when sent for. All I want to do is to do right. If I could only see what was best for me to do.
     Mr. G--- has Dr. Bates attending him twice a day yet he sits up all most all the time. I had not been to see him yet as the girls and Mrs. Robertson have quit forsaken me not one of them has been to see me since the 16 of August. I don't feel that the course I have persued has disgraced me in the least. So much for friendship these times, I can do without them and have the more time to devote to my books. It shall not cost me another thought and I will not care. I feel that I have done right as far as I knew how and have no reflections to cast upon myself.
     Mother sends her love and says she only hopes you may be successful in getting a release. I have attended to hunting up those remedies for Mary and she will take them as you directed. All well, and send their love.

          E. C. Hughes

      "Aunt Cynthia" was Cynthia (Burley) Martin, the wife of State Legislator, Jefferson T. Martin, of Marshall County, (W) Virginia. They were married in Ohio County on 23 Apr 1825 (Marshall County was part of Ohio County until 1835). Cynthia, the daughter of Jacob Burley and Mary Hughes, and was actually the cousin of Drs. Eliza and Alfred Hughes, rather than their aunt. Cynthia's mother, Mary Hughes, was the sister of their father, Thomas Hughes. Perhaps they referred to her as "aunt" because she was somewhat older. Both Jefferson and Cynthia are buried in the Martin Family Cemetery in Marshall County. Cynthia died in January 1863, apparently not long after Dr. Eliza Hughes wrote this letter. Mr. Jefferson T. Martin lived until 1877.


From "History of the Upper Ohio Valley,"
Vol. I, pages 332-335 & 580; Brant & Fuller, 1890.

      Alfred Hughes, M. D., of Baltimore, Md., was born at Wheeling, Va., on September 16, 1824. His great-grandfather, Felix Hughes, was a native of Ireland. He was a devout Catholic, and left the land of his birth to find that religious freedom that he was there denied. He came to this country and settled in Loudon county, Va., in 1732. Four sons were born to him, of whom James, the grandfather of our subject, was a great huntsman, and crossing the mountains in quest of game, saw the beautiful region that is now Greene county, Penn., but then a part of Virginia. He determined to settle there and having married a Miss Dunn, of Jefferson county, Va., in 1772 moved to his newly located home, and was among the first white settlers of that section. At his death he owned large tracts of land in Virginia, Kentucky and what is now Indiana; he left three sons and five daughters, his oldest child being then only nineteen years of age. His youngest child but one, Thomas, was born and raised in what is now Greene county, Penn., and in early life married Mary, daughter of Charles von Odenbaugh of Winchester, Va. They shortly afterward moved to Wheeling, Va., where seven sons and three daughters were born to them. He served under Gen. Harrison in the war of 1812. At his death in 1849, he had been treasurer of the city of Wheeling, and member of the city council for thirty-two years; president of the Wheeling Savings institution; president of the Wheeling Fire Insurance company; president of the Wheeling & Belmont Bridge company, and director in the Northwestern bank. His oldest living son was chosen to fill his place in the city council, and held the position to a year previous to his death, in 1870. His seventh child was our subject. He went through a thorough collegiate course of education, studied medicine and graduated at the Homeopathic Medical college of Philadelphia. On November 1, 1849, he married Mary Kirby Adrian, of Wheeling, a descendant of the Sedgwick family of Maryland, who settled in that state in the early part of the seventeenth century. He began the practice of homeopathy at Wheeling in 1851. Of those who had essayed the task of practicing the new school and failed, two practitioners were from Philadelphia and one from Baltimore. Popular prejudice and the bitter opposition of the old school were too much for them, and their defeat rendered victory more difficult for their successor. Dr. Hughes, however, after a hard fight, and many newspaper controversies, conquered, vindicating the advantages of the homeopathic practice. When the cholera made its appearance, in 1854, he labored constantly night and day, being the only homeopathic physician in the city, and meeting with almost unprecedented success in his treatment of the fearful scourge, then in epidemic form, homeopathy was then firmly established, he soon built up a large and lucrative practice, and now Wheeling, in place of one, has several new school practitioners. On the outbreak of the war, and when the first gun was fired at Charleston, his sympathies were enlisted in behalf of the south. When Virginia seceded, he engaged in newspaper political controversies, and became correspondent for the Baltimore Exchange. He was arrested for disloyalty in 1861, and was held a prisoner at Camp Chase, near Columbus, Ohio, for nearly eight months, when he was specially exchanged for a brother of Dr. Pancoast of Philadelphia, captured at Bloomery Gap, Va., and a prisoner at Salisbury, N. C. On his way to Richmond with his wife and three children he stayed in Baltimore, reporting to Gen. Schenck, to whom he had letters of introduction. He obtained from the secretary of war, Stanton, a permit to take his wife and children and extra baggage to Richmond. On the steamer in which they sailed for Fortress Monroe were several distinguished federal generals, among them Gen. Thomas, who rendered them great service in getting through their extensive baggage, consisting of some thirteen trunks, at a time when scarcely a bundle was permitted to go by a flag of truce boat. Having been landed at City Point, and the formalities of exchange gone through, he proceeded with his family to Richmond. At Petersburg he was arrested on a general suspicion created by the amount of his baggage, and it was not until dispatches were received from two of his friends in Richmond, Judge Brokenbrough and Hon. Charles W. Russell, vouching for his loyalty to the south, that he and his baggage were permitted to proceed. His arrival in Richmond accompanied by the unusual amount of baggage gave rise to a report that he was a commissioner of peace sent by the United States government clothed with power to end the war. He at once settled down into practice, and again had to fight homeopathy's battle against bitter prejudice and stubborn opposition. Once more he succeeded in establishing the system, and secured an excellent practice. After a while he was elected to the legislature of Virginia, and remained a member thereof up to the fall of Richmond. He was a warm advocate of the enlistment of slaves in the southern ranks. Among his patients during and since the war was the wife of Gen. Robert E. Lee. On December 18, 1865, he removed from Richmond to Baltimore, where he soon established himself in a good and lucrative practice, such a one, indeed, as is obtained by few, even after long residence in a city. This he has done in spite of much competition. Thus he has established in his native city, and won respect for it in his own person, in two others. Dr. Hughes was an occasional contributor to the American Homeopathic Observer. He has had ten children, five sons and three daughters of whom are living. His oldest son a graduate in law of the university of Virginia is a practicing lawyer in Baltimore. His oldest daughter in 1869, was married to W. P. Moncure, M. D., son of Judge R. C. L. Moncure, deceased, formerly president of the supreme court of appeals of Virginia. His second daughter in 1877, was married to Frank A. Bond, formerly adjutant-general of the state of Maryland, and an officer in the confederate states army of northern Virginia. His family are widely extended through Virginia, West Virginia and part of Kentucky. He died in Baltimore, Md., February 25, 1880. There is a sketch of his life in Cleave's Biographical Cyclopaedia of Homeopathic Physicians and Surgeons, and in the Biographical Cyclopaedia of Prominent Men in Maryland and the District of Columbia. His eldest son, Thomas, born August 25, 1850, in Wheeling, was at the close of the war a cadet at the Virginia Military institute at Richmond, Va.; graduated in 1871 at the Baltimore City college, first in a class of nineteen students, completing the prescribed course of four years in two years; and in the spring of the following year graduated in law at the university of Virginia, receiving the degree of B. L. He is a prominent lawyer in large practice in Baltimore; a member of the Bar association of Baltimore City, of the American Bar association, of the Maryland Historical society, past master of Concordia lodge, a member of the Jerusalem chapter and Beauseant commandery of Masons, past grand of Baltimore City lodge, and past chief patriarch of Mt. Araratt encampment of Odd Fellows, and a member of the Calumet, Crescent and Atheneum clubs of Baltimore. In 1875 he married Helen R. Thorburn of Fredricksburg, Va., daughter of Capt. Robert Donaldson Thorburn, formerly of the United States navy.

Page 580

      Alfred Hughes was born in Wheeling, September 16, 1824. His ancestors were Irish Catholics, who settled in Virginia in 1732. His father served under Gen. Harrison in the war of 1812, and afterward filled many positions of trust in Wheeling, serving for thirty years as a member of the city council, and being succeeded by his oldest son. Dr. Hughes was the seventh child. After a collegiate course he studied medicine and graduated at the Homaeopathic Medical college of Philadelphia. After his marriage to Miss Adrian, he, in 1851, began the practice of homoeopathy in Wheeling. Two "new school" physicians had failed before him, but Dr. Hughes fought a successful battle, and won an excellent practice. It is claimed that he had unusual success in treating cholera during the epidemic of 1854. At the outbreak of the war his sympathies were enlisted in behalf of the south. He was arrested for disloyalty in 1861, and held as a prisoner at Camp Chase, Ohio, for eight months, when he was exchanged for a brother of Dr. Pancoast, of Philadelphia. He then went to Richmond and settled down in practice, in which he was successful. He was elected a member of the Virginia legislature, and so remained until the fall of Richmond. In December, 1865, he removed to Baltimore, where he soon established himself in a lucrative practice. Dr. Hughes was early in the war a correspondent of the Baltimore Exchange, and contributed occasional medical paper to the American Homoeopathic Observer. He died in Baltimore, February 25, 1880, highly respected and esteemed by a large circle of friends.