Amanda Sanford Hickey

Amanda Sanford Hickey was born in 1838 in Cayuga County, New York. Poor and sickly as a child, Amanda desired more from her life and took an interest in medicine.  She supported her mother through various jobs growing up, eventually following her passion for wellness and caretaking with an apprenticeship under Dr. Marie Zakrzewski at the New England Hospital for Women and Children.[1] This particular hospital was a sanctuary to several notable female U-M alums, harboring their passion for medicine and inspiring them to dedicate their lives to the care and treatment of women and children.[2] Through Amanda’s diligence and hard work there, she became a skilled midwife by April, 1870. During her time at the hospital, she, along with her colleagues Anna Searing, Elizabeth Gerow, Emma Call and Eliza Mosher, received a letter from the University of Michigan to their laboratory, inviting them to apply. However, the letter stated that “a large portion of medical instruction cannot be given in the presence of mixed classes without offending the sense of delicacy, and refinement, that should be maintained between the sexes.” This cryptic doctrine did not dishearten the determined ladies, who all applied to the medical department, vowing to “outdo the men.”[3]

Amanda was the first woman to graduate from the University of Michigan. As the sole female in a class of ninety, she achieved first honors and was accepted for her MD on March 29, 1871. As she took her diploma at Commencement, students rained spitballs down at her from the gallery because they disapproved of a woman graduating from the medical school. This spitball shower would linger in her memory for years to come and would later convince her to advocate for women’s rights. After graduation, Amanda at once returned to her home in New York to set up a practice in Auburn. This would later be expanded and known as the Auburn City Hospital, which she helped found, along with eight others, and where she performed gynecology, obstetrics, surgery and general medicine. It was at her solicitation that the hospital was equipped with a separate Maternity Cottage, reminiscent of her senior thesis work on eclampsia, or the onset of seizures that can occur during a woman’s pregnancy or shortly after giving birth.[4] She always had a fascination for pregnancy and women’s health.[5]

Sanford was especially focused on equalizing the quality of medical care for female patients; her work reflected these deliberate attempts at advancement for women. The Board of Regents remarked that “she possessed a rare degree in the gifts of silence, deliberation and perseverance.”[6] She was appointed by her male colleagues to the County Medical Society, of which she became the president a year later.[7] In 1879, she reconnected with her friend Eliza Mosher. The two traveled abroad to Europe to see the new medical theories and practices overseas. She also organized the Cayuga County Political Equality Club, whose members consorted with the likes of outspoken suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Amelia Bloomer. Sanford’s obituary declared her “an ardent believer and earnest worker in the cause of universal suffrage.”[8] Her dedication to the advancements of women’s health and her advocacy for equality were important and will continue to inspire those headed down the same path.

Her achievements are commemorated today by the designation of Sanford House of Bursley Hall. Her name will be looked up to as a beacon of inspiration to the women who reside in Bursley Hall and remind them to persevere for equality just as she had dedicated herself to throughout her life.

  1. Clipping from Yesteryears: A Quarterly Magazine, Florence W. Hazzard Papers.
  2. The Fiftieth Anniversary of the New England Hospital for Women and Children (Boston : Geo. H. Ellis Co., 1913).
  3. Clipping from Yesteryears: A Quarterly Magazine, Florence W. Hazzard Papers.
  4. Irina Burd, “Eclampsia,” MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, ADAM Inc, 2017.
  5. The Fiftieth Anniversary of the New England Hospital for Women and Children 
  6. “Baits II Hall (1967),” 262-F, Box 17, University Housing Records.
  7. “Baits II Hall (1967),” 262-F, Box 17, University Housing Records.
  8. Clipping from Yesteryears: A Quarterly Magazine, Florence W. Hazzard Papers.
Image Credit:

“Dr. Amanda Sanford Hickey,” Amanda Sanford Hickey Photograph Collection.