Allan, Sarah Campbell

December 7, 1861–February 25, 1954

Following her graduation in 1894 from the Women’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children in 1891, Allan returned to Charleston and participated in the first sitting of the South Carolina Medical Board, the only woman to do so.

Physician. Allan was born in Charleston on December 7, 1861, one of eight children born to Scottish merchant James Allan and Amy Hobcraft. Allan graduated from the Charleston Female Seminary, a school for young women founded by Henrietta Aiken Kelly when her efforts to have women accepted at the all male College of Charleston failed. Allan’s early life was one of comfort and privilege. At age twenty nine, she applied for admission to the Medical College of the State of South Carolina and was rejected because she was female. She thought briefly of nursing as an alternative, but her father urged her to pursue her real ambition. After taking a preparatory course for medicine in the recently formed South Carolina College for Women in Columbia, she entered the Women’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children in 1891. Following her graduation in 1894, she spent a short period as resident physician at a sanitarium in Baltimore. She returned to Charleston in October 1894 and participated in the first sitting of the South Carolina Medical Board, the only woman to do so. She scored the highest average grade of the fourteen applicants who took the examination and was granted license number 40 by the board in October 1894.

Allan declined an offer of a staff position at Converse College and soon after accepted a position at the South Carolina Hospital for the Insane in Columbia to care for the female patients, a step applauded by the press. She assumed the position on October 1, 1895. Her duties were not confined to patient care. She taught anatomy and physiology to students in a newly instituted nursing program. After more than eleven years of service, she resigned on May 1, 1907, to return to Charleston to care for her father, who died one year later. Although she subsequently accepted occasional requests for consultation on psychiatric patients, she never returned to the regular practice of medicine.

The remaining forty six years of Allan’s life were given over to numerous charitable and civic organizations, as well as the Presbyterian Church. She traveled extensively, read voraciously (in English and French), and was known for her generosity and sense of humor. When asked by a stranger about her earlier years, she sometimes would remark that she had spent eleven years of her life in a mental institution. Allan died at her home on Gadsden Street, Charleston, on February 25, 1954, and was buried in Magnolia Cemetery.

Allan, Sarah C. Biographical file. Waring Historical Library, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston.

McDermid, Robert M. “Sarah Campbell Allan, M.D. South Carolina’s Pioneer Woman Physician: A Biographical Sketch.” Unpublished manuscript, Waring Historical Library, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston.

Worthington, W. Curtis. “Psychiatrist and Humanitarian Sarah Campbell Allan (1861–1954): South Carolina’s First Licensed Woman Physician.” Journal of the South Carolina Medical Association 89 (January 1993): 9–14.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Allan, Sarah Campbell
  • Coverage December 7, 1861–February 25, 1954
  • Author
  • Keywords Charleston Female Seminary, South Carolina Hospital,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date April 12, 2021
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update October 12, 2016
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