Anita Tyng (1838 – 1913)

Anita E. Tyng, the daughter of Charles A. and Anna A. (McAlpine) Tyng, was a medical doctor and surgeon.  She was born in Massachusetts on February 4, 1838.  Her father’s ancestors dated back to the early years of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Little is known of Anita’s childhood or adolescent years.  What is known is that she studied at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston and then earned her M.D. from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1864.  The title of her doctoral thesis was Ulceration and Ulcers.

Returning to Boston, she worked in private practice as a surgical assistant to Horatio Storer before joining the staff of the New England Hospital for Women and Children as its first woman staff member, but she was not admitted to medical practice.  With the experience gained in these jobs, she moved to Providence where there was no sufficiently educated woman practitioner.  There in 1870, she applied to the venerable Rhode Island Medical Society for admission, but her initial application failed to receive a two-thirds affirmative vote and was therefore rejected.  Undaunted, she tried again in 1872, and on December 18, she became the first woman to be admitted as a fellow of the society.  Even the propriety of that election was questioned, but it was resolved in her favor by a committee headed by Dr. Edwin Snow.

At the society’s annual meeting in 1882, ten years after her pathbreaking acceptance, Dr. Charles W. Parsons glowingly described Tyng as the medical society’s first “soror-socius” (i.e. sister-member) and then remarked in a tribute to Tyng that “If we are to have women doctors at all, do let us have well-educated ones, and if this society does anything to keep up the standard let them and their patients have the go of it.”  He also noted “the contrast between the action of this society and our brothers in Massachusetts, who have not yet opened their doors to women.

Dr. Tyng’s thirteen-year tenure in Rhode Island was productive.  She ran a successful practice that included gynecological surgery.  She was not only a skilled surgeon but also the author of illuminating medical essays, and a contributor to the development of the library of the Rhode Island Medical Society. 

In the late 1870s and early 1880s she mentored a number of young women physicians.  She was an early advocate of women in medicine and urged the study of women’s health.  In a paper she delivered to the alumnae of the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1880, she called for a concerted effort by women physicians to investigate female health.

According to Dr. George H. Hersey who wrote her eulogy, Dr. Tyng’s most famous case was “one of removal of the ovaries by abdominal section to check the growth of a uterine fibroid.”  This operation was performed in January 1880 in Providence with only women aides in the operating room, “all of whom had carefully bathed with carbolized water and wore fresh, clean calico dresses.”

While in Providence, Dr. Tyng also addressed several medical societies on scientific topics and reported on some of her “interesting cases.”  In the 1881 annual report of the Rhode Island State Board of Health she contributed a judicious essay on heredity and one on “The Causes of Ill Health in Women.”  In 1874, she wrote a learned analysis of eclampsia, a condition in which one or more convulsions or seizures occur in a pregnant woman suffering from high blood pressure, or in a mother who has just delivered, often followed by a coma.  This condition, though rare, still poses a grave threat to the health of both mother and baby

In 1883, Dr. Tyng returned to Philadelphia to teach and practice surgery at her alma mater.  The adventuresome physician then journeyed to Florida, to Cuba as a missionary and, finally to California where she died in Berkeley on October 16, 1913 at the age of seventy-five.  She was cremated—a practice unusual for that time. 

Anita was never married, except to her profession.  While in Providence she was a devout communicant of Grace Episcopal Church and was involved in a number of Episcopalian societies during her time in California.

Patrick T. Conley

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