Anna Tomaszewicz Dobrska (1854–1918)

Autor: Krystyna Makowska
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Anna Tomaszewicz Dobrska (1854–1918)

Portrait of Anna Tomaszewicz-Dobrska from Cecylia Walewska's book "In the fight for equal rights: our fighters" from 1930, chapter about Anna Tomaszewicz-Dobrska. Polona Archive (National Library).

Anna Tomaszewicz Dobrska was born on April 13, 1854 in a town Mława (then part of Russian Empire, today in north-eastern Poland)  [1,2]. She was one of the six children of Władysław Tomaszewicz and Jadwiga Kołaczkowska. Their marriage was controversial at that time since he was a head of the gendarmerie with the rank of staff captain of the Tsarist-Russian troops, and Jadwiga came from a poor gentry family [3].

Anna received her secondary education with honors in Łomża and at Paszkiewiczowa's boarding school. In 1873 she went to Zurich to study medicine [4]. She was forced to study abroad, because at that time women were not allowed to study in the Polish Kingdom. It was only in 1894 that the Jagiellonian University was the first domestic university to allow women to study [5]. When she was at her fifth year of studies she received an assistantship with the neurologist and psychiatrist Eduard Hitzig at the Psychiatry Clinic of the University of Zurich [6]. Despite the difficult financial situation she was able to finish her studies in 1877 with writing her doctoral thesis entitled “Beitrage zur Physiologie des Ohrlabyrinthes” , published in Zurich and devoted to the physiology of the inner ear under the supervision of Ludimar Herman [2,6].

After graduation, she returned to Warsaw, where she had problems with validating her diploma because of her gender. Convinced of her good education and competences, Anna submitted an application to become a member of the Warsaw Medical Society. Unfortunately, despite the positive opinion of the Society's president, prof. Henryk Hoyer, her candidacy was lost during the voting with lack of only one vote of support [3]. In the public debate, which began with an article criticizing female students and praising the rejection of Tomaszewicz-Dobrska's application, Aleksander Świętochowski and Bolesław Prus took her side [6,7,8]. Due to the impossibility of practicing in the country, Tomaszewicz-Dobrska went to Saint Petersburg to the Medical and Surgical Academy where her diploma was valid. Thanks to her fluent knowledge of English, German and French she was hired as the keeper of the harem of the Turkish Sultan, who was temporarily visiting the city which allowed her to take the final exams at the Medical and Surgical Academy [7].