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Dr. Martha Elizabeth Reifsnyder was born in Liverpool, Pennsylvania 1858. She opened up the first women's hospital in China, which was also the first of its kind there. Although she was born in Pennsylvania, Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder moved to China early on in her career and spent most of her life there. Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder paved the way for modern medicine and performed a groundbreaking surgery that is still talked about today.


  • This is a modern day photography of the Red House Hospital

Martha Elizabeth Reifsnyder paved the road for thousands of women in the medical field. Through her hard work and determination, she was able to accomplish plenty of "firsts" which made women in the medical field more acceptable. Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder had accomplished many great things and is recognized by historians and medical staff alike around the world. Her groundbreaking surgery put her on the map and has kept her on it until this day.

Nancy Musselman Reifsnyder and her husband, John, gave birth to Martha Elizabeth Reifsnyder on January 17th, 1858 in Liverpool Pennsylvania. Reifsnyder had a total of six siblings, but their names and ages are unknown.[1]

Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder's childhood was spent like many others, school and play. After going through the Liverpool schools, she enrolled in the Millersville State Normal School, which was later renamed to Millersville University of Pennsylvania.[2] During the time of Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder's life, women going to any form of secondary education was unheard of. After receiving her degree, Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder moved onto the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania.[3] Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder had already beaten the odds by going to college and getting an undergraduate degree, but being able to attend medical school is history making in itself. The Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania was one of the first medical colleges in the world to award women a degree in medicine.[4] She graduated from the medical school in 1881 when she was only 23 years old.[5] After this, Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder became an intern for a year so she could practice medicine without supervision.[6] Shortly after her internship ended, Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder moved to China in 1883, where she spent a majority of her career.[7]

After opening the Margret Williamson Memorial Hospital in Shanghai, there were few and far between patients. People were skeptical of going to someone new especially someone who wasn't native. But one day, a woman stumbled into the hospital in dire need of help. She had a cyst containing over 20 gallons of fluid. Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder was skeptical, finding herself in a strenuous and dangerous predicament, but proceeded with the surgery anyway. The surgery was successful and the story of such operation spread like wildfire. By the time the hospital's 25th anniversary came, more than eight hundred thousand people had been treated.[8] There were times when two hundred and fifty people were cared for in a single day.[9] Among the massive amounts of patients Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder had seen, the wife of the Chinese ambassador to the United States, Mademoiselles Wu Tin Fang was one of them.[10]

After Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder's heroic act on the woman, she never had a problem trying to get patients to come in. Soon after the story of the historic surgery spread, there was thousands of people flocking to Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder's doorstep to be treated.[11] Not long after that, the need for more medical buildings was no question. Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder personally directed the new institution and it eventually became one of the greatest hospital units in the Far East.[12]

Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder opened the first hospital as Margaret Williamson Memorial Hospital for Women and Children in 1884 but it was later renamed to the Red House Hospital that still stands today. The Red House Hospital was the first hospital in Shanghai that was exclusively meant for woman and children. This hospital is comprised of two locations, the second location was opened in 2009.[13] Together, they occupy around 10.7 acres and over nine hundred thousand square feet of floor space. Not only were there multiple medical buildings, the original building (built in 1883) also had a home for medical workers and a house for the nurses and assistants added to the plans.[14]

Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder periodically made trips home from China to visit family. Her final trip home, in 1914 was not supposed to be her final trip.[15] She had made numerous attempts to fly back out to China, but she never made it. Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder passed away in her hometown of Liverpool due to heart disease 8 years after returning at the age of 64.[16]

[1] "Elizabeth Reifsnyder.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Mar. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Reifsnyder

[2] "Elizabeth Reifsnyder.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Mar. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Reifsnyder

[3] "Elizabeth Reifsnyder.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Mar. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Reifsnyder

[4] “Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Apr. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman%27s_Medical_College_of_Pennsylvania.

[5] "Elizabeth Reifsnyder.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Mar. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Reifsnyder

[6] "Elizabeth Reifsnyder.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Mar. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Reifsnyder

[7] "Elizabeth Reifsnyder.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Mar. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Reifsnyder

[8] Schoch, Agnes Selin. “Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder: Pioneer Woman Medical Missionary to China.” View of Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder: Pioneer Woman Medical Missionary to China, journals.psu.edu/phj/article/view/21370/21139

[9] Schoch, Agnes Selin. “Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder: Pioneer Woman Medical Missionary to China.” View of Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder: Pioneer Woman Medical Missionary to China, journals.psu.edu/phj/article/view/21370/21139

[10] Schoch, Agnes Selin. “Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder: Pioneer Woman Medical Missionary to China.” View of Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder: Pioneer Woman Medical Missionary to China, journals.psu.edu/phj/article/view/21370/21139

[11] Schoch, Agnes Selin. “Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder: Pioneer Woman Medical Missionary to China.” View of Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder: Pioneer Woman Medical Missionary to China, journals.psu.edu/phj/article/view/21370/21139

[12] Schoch, Agnes Selin. “Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder: Pioneer Woman Medical Missionary to China.” View of Dr. Elizabeth Reifsnyder: Pioneer Woman Medical Missionary to China, journals.psu.edu/phj/article/view/21370/21139

[13] “Red House Hospital.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Feb. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_House_Hospital

[14] “Red House Hospital.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Feb. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_House_Hospital

[15] "Elizabeth Reifsnyder.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Mar. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Reifsnyder

[16] "Elizabeth Reifsnyder.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Mar. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Reifsnyder

[17] Allen, Belle Jane. “A Crusade of Compassion for the Healing of the Nations.” Google Books, Google, books.google.com/books?id=rzs3AAAAMAAJ&pg=PA104#v=onepage&q&f=false.

[18] “Elizabeth Reifsnyder Performing Surgery.” Omeka RSS, collections.countway.harvard.edu/onview/items/show/12640.

[19] Women Physicians: 1850s - 1970s: Elizabeth Reifsnyder Conducting Ovariotomy Operation, xdl.drexelmed.edu/item.php?object_id=2313&t=womanmd.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

By Fayhoo - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40624684