Anna Manning Comfort
Image source: wikimedia

Anna Manning Comfort M.D. (19 January 1845 – 12 January 1931) was in the first class of graduates from the New York Medical College in 1865, and the youngest woman ever to graduate as a doctor at the age of 20.

Anna Manning Comfort specialised in women’s diseases. She survived to become the oldest woman doctor in America, thereby gaining both records!

Anna Manning was born in Trenton, New Jersey, on 10 January 1845, to Alfred Carling Manning (1825 – 1891) and Elizabeth Price (1826 – 1904). Her parents moved to Boston, MA, and it was there that she received her early education.

From a young age Manning showed an interest in medicine. This was encouraged by her aunt, Dr. Clemence Sophia Lozier, a pioneering physician, homeopath and noted suffragist. Lozier, a friend of writer, activist, and lay homeopath Elizabeth Cady Stanton, had been instrumental in founding the New York Medical College for Women in 1863, one of only two medical schools for women in the world at that time.

Anna Manning was a member of the first class at the New York Medical College for Women and lived with her aunt, the Dean, during her studies. Among the many progressives and reformers who visited Lozier‘s house during Manning’s stay were Susan B. Anthony, who inspired Manning to persevere with medicine.

As a medical student and in her early career as a physician, Manning walked a gauntlet of prejudice, having to endure the abuse of male medical students and male doctors at Bellevue, and being taunted in the streets. Her medical sign was frequently removed from her practice, pharmacists would not fill her prescriptions, and orthodox male doctors would not consult with her – because as a woman she was attempting to enter a male domain.

Manning graduated M.D. in 1865. At that time there were no more than a dozen women medical graduates in America. The abolitionist and social reformer Henry Ward Beecher accompanied Manning on her graduation ceremony at the College, and she was escorted to the podium to receive her diploma by newspaper editor, publisher, and homeopathic patron, Horace Greeley.

Anna Manning commenced practice in Norwich, CT, the first woman medical graduate to practice in the state. While there she built a reputation as an accomplished physician, and also actively participated in reformist politics, notably on behalf of women’s rights.

In 1870 Manning relocated to New York City, where she practiced successfully whilst also lecturing at her alma mater, the New York Medical College for Women. At the same time her aunt Clemence Sophia Lozier and her sister Emily L. Manning Smith M.D. (1847 – 1934), who had graduated from the College in 1868, were also practicing medicine in the city.

The following year, 1871, Anna Manning married linguist and art scholar George Fisk Comfort (1833 – 1910), the founder of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York. They had three sons: Frederick Price (1874 – 1918), Arthur (born/died 1876), and Ralph Manning Comfort (1872 – 1954).

In 1872 George Fisk Comfort became Dean of the College of Fine Arts at the newly established Syracuse University.

George Fisk Comfort was professor of modern languages at Allegheny College, Pennsylvania. He moved to Drew Theological Seminary in Madison, NJ, to become lecturer in Christian (late ancient and early medieval) archaeology. Resident in New York state, he helped found the American Philological Society, of which he was president in 1869-74.

In Syracuse, Manning took a break from her medical practice to raise their children. She also took the opportunity to write a book, Woman’s Education, and Woman’s Health, published in 1874. Co-written with her husband, this was a rejoinder to Harvard Professor and physician Edward Hammond Clarke’s controversial 1873 book, Sex in Education, Or, A Fair Chance for the Girls, in which he attacked higher education for women.

Twice, in 1887 and 1891, Anna Manning Comfort traveled to Europe, where she visited many hospitals and medical institutions. On her return to Syracuse she resumed her medical practice, specializing in gynecology.

Anna Manning was a member of Sorosis, the Professional Woman’s League of Syracuse, The Syracuse Political equity Club and the New York State Woman Suffrage Association. She became well known for her defence of women’s rights, as well as those of Native Americans and African Americans. In 1899 she published an anti-imperialist poem, The Home Burdens of Uncle Sam.

Anna Manning Comfort died of pneumonia in New York City on 11 January, 1931, aged 85.

Select Publications:

Woman’s Education, and Woman’s Health (1874), co-written with her husband, George Fisk Comfort.

Of Interest:

The Comfort Family Papers consist of correspondence, day-books, publications, clippings, photographs and other material through four generations. The papers include Dean George Fisk Comfort’s grandfather, farmer John Comfort [1776-1850], his father, the Reverend Silas Comfort [1803-1868] and his son, architect Ralph Manning Comfort [1872-1954] who assembled the collection and arranged for its presentation to the Archives. They also include his wife, Anna Manning Comfort, M.D. [1845-1931].

Emily L. Manning [Smith] M.D. (7 April 1847 – 31 January 1934), sometimes listed as Amelia, was the younger sister of Anna Manning Comfort. Emily was born in New Jersey, graduated M.D. in 1868 from and briefly practiced in New York City, before marrying businessman Frank Alba Smith. Like her sister, Emily was also a clubwoman and advocate for women’s rights. She was the corresponding secretary for Sorosis.

Carroll Dunham M.D. (1828 – 1877), President of the American Institute of Homeopathy, was a cousin of Clemence Sophia Lozier and second cousin to Anna Manning Comfort.