Mary Hancock McLean (1861 - 1930)

Mary Hancock McLean
(Photo courtesy Western Historical Manuscript Collection, University of Missouri-St. Louis)

Physician and surgeon Mary Hancock McLean was born in 1861 in Washington, Missouri, the daughter of a local physician. She studied for two years at Vassar College before enrolling in the University of Michigan medical school where she received her degree in 1883. There were few post-graduate positions available to women at the time, however, through family connections McLean was able to secure a one-year internship at the Female Hospital, which later became a part of the St. Louis City Hospital. After completing the internship, McLean opened a private practice in obstetrics and gynecology. In addition, McLean was a member of the staff of both Bethesda and St. Luke’s Hospitals. In 1893 McLean and Ella Marx, another woman physician (and 1887 graduate of the University of Michigan medical school), opened the Evening Dispensary for Women, a clinic that offered low-cost or free medical treatment and advice to working women.

McLean’s interest in women’s health extended beyond medical care — she was especially concerned about the plight of young rural girls moving to the city. She initiated plans for the Emmaus Home for Girls, a residence for women employed at the 1904 World’s Fair. The Emmaus Home became the antecedent of the St. Louis Young Women’s Christian Association, organized in 1905 with the purpose of fostering the “spiritual, intellectual, social, and physical development of young women.” Dr. McLean served on the organization’s board and was active in its health and hygiene outreach efforts. Through her efforts the YWCA took its programs into factories and department stores, offering female employees medical examinations, exercise classes, and health education. McLean also introduced sex education into the YWCA preventive health program.

Dr. McLean was the first woman admitted to membership in the St. Louis Medical Society and was a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons. She continued to practice medicine until five months before her death on May 17, 1930.