Dr. Clelia Duel Mosher — Women’s Rights Activist, Doctor, Scientist, Professor

Woman's Club member Dr. Clelia Duel Mosher (1863-1940) was the first woman in Palo Alto to cast a vote for emancipation. Mosher’s life was devoted to disproving Victorian stereotypes of females as “frail” and therefore incapapable of male accomplishments. She first tackled these stereotypes when her physician father thought her too delicate to attend college. 

Clelia turned his greenhouse into a florist shop and within eight years was able to attend and pay for college without her parents’ approval. She never looked back. 

While at the University of Wisconsin, Mosher designed a nine-page survey concerning the sexual practices and attitudes of Victorian women. It took 30 years to complete and was never published in her lifetime. Had it been, it might have ended her career, as its sensational findings rival those of Kinsey in their repudiation of outdated notions of female sexuality. Among her respondents: 75% engaged in weekly sex, 80% desired intercourse and 72% experienced orgasm. One even suggested that lack of orgasm was because “Men have not been properly trained.” 

At Johns Hopkins Medical School, Mosher researched menstruation. The medical establishment viewed menses as an incapacitating disease requiring bed rest. She postulated that it was a natural bodily function whose discomfort resulted not from disease but rather from societal expectations of pain, poor diet, impractical clothing and insufficient exercise. She invented exercises called “moshers” intended to strengthen core abdominal muscles. 

Thwarted from completing her gynecological surgery internship because no man would work as her surgical assistant, Mosher returned to Palo Alto and set up a general medicine practice. Her clients were few, as female physicians were accepted only as obstetricians or pediatricians. Forced to supplement her income, she taught high school, worked for Palo Alto’s Health Department during the typhoid epidemic and ultimately returned to Stanford as medical adviser to women. Here Mosher developed a large library for her students on nutrition, health, sexual anatomy and feminist teachings. She organized the first women’s athletic competitions with Berkeley. In 1911, as the first woman to vote for suffrage in Palo Alto, Clelia humorously suggested that voting might solve all female health problems. 

During World War I, Clelia served in France as a Medical Investigator for Children’s Relief. Returning to Stanford in 1922, she became a full professor in 1928. Stanford conferred professorships to women only at retirement because they did not consider them to be full-fledged academics, but only teachers of female students. Dr. Clelia Mosher would certainly have been first in line to vote on November 8, 2016. 

— Margaret R. Feuer