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Dr. Ann Preston: Pioneer Physician and Poet

Chris Densmore, Curator, Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College

Ann Preston

     The abolitionists of Kennett and vicinity often thought of their anti-slavery activities as one among many interrelated reforms. Just as those enslaved had a right to think, act and speak for themselves, so did women.  Women’s medical education was part of the package.  One of those present at Dr. Bartholomew Fussell’s home when the radical idea of a women’s medical college was proposed was Ann Preston of West Grove, a long-time abolitionist, who lectured on women’s medical issues. In 1851, she was one of the initial graduates of the Female Medical College.  


    She was also a sometime poet, and in 1849 published Cousin Ann’s Stories for Children with instructive stories about how children of all classes and races could behave with love and kindness. Typical of the book was the poem about “Little Howard and the Squirrel” where a boy has a squirrel as a pet, kept in a cage. 

    “But Howard thought he should not like

    A little slave to be

    And God had made the nimble squirrel,

    To run and climb the tree. “ 


Little Howard liberates his pet, “and laughed to see it run.”   The poem ends: 


    “A bird or squirrel in a cage.

    It makes me sad to see;

    It seems so cruel to confine

    The creatures made so free.”    


    Ann Preston did her own bit in helping the enslaved to freedom, and helping women to find a voice and a place in the professions.

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