Notes: This article says that Dr. Matsumoto Chitei became the first Korean woman to earn a Medical Ph.D. degree. That stood out to me as a very impressive accomplishment, especially in Japan-colonized Korea, where being a Korean woman and a mother raising three children and pregnant with a fourth child would have been significant disadvantages. She was extremely lucky to have had a supportive mentor and a progressive husband who allowed her to pursue her degree while raising children at the same time.
“Medical Ph.D.” is a translation of 医学博士 (igaku-hakushi), a degree that was established in Japan in 1898. It is conferred after you graduate medical school, earn your medical license, then either finish a medical science curriculum at a graduate school or write a dissertation in the medical sciences.
Just to be clear, Chitei does not appear to be the first Korean woman ever to become a medical doctor. Esther Park was the first Korean woman ever to become a doctor in Western medicine (Esther Park (physician) – Wikipedia). Kil Chung-Hee earned her medical degree in 1923 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kil_Chung-hee).
Japan-colonized Korea was by no means a land of gender equality brimming with opportunity for women. On the contrary, Dr. Matsumoto was an exceedingly rare exception in a country where most Koreans did not have the opportunity to attend high school, let alone university or graduate school.
So, I was surprised to learn that there were a handful of Korean women who managed to earn university degrees during World War II. According to this paper in Japanese (https://doi.org/10.15017/2544147), if a Korean girl in Japan-colonized Korea wanted to fulfill her dream of getting a university education, her best chance was to graduate from Ehwa Girls’ High School, find a sympathetic mentor, and get into a university in Japan proper with his help. But that was a very long shot.
Chitei does not appear in any Google searches except in one academic page (https://cir.nii.ac.jp/ja/crid/1110001310155268992) which actually lists her Japanese name and the date when she received her medical degree: June 18, 1942. The title of her dissertation listed on this page, 蟇血管中脳に関する薬理学的研究 (Pharmacological study on the toad vascular midbrain), differs slightly from the one listed in this article. I believe that her research proved that the midbrain of amphibians also has a cardiovascular center which regulates heart rate, much like humans.
In this article, she says that she will devote her life to research and continue on the path of medicine, but she does not appear to have published any papers after her dissertation. I wonder what happened to her?
It would be nice if I could search for Dr. Matsumoto in Korean language sources, figure out her Korean name, and learn more about her postwar life, but unfortunately that is outside of my expertise and resources. My only hunch is that the Kanji for her Japanese first name, Chitei (致貞), is actually the Hanja for her Korean first name, Chijeong (치정). But even searching for women named Chijeong born around 1911 did not show any useful results online, so I’m at a dead end.
Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo), May 5, 1942
Well Done! Female Medical Ph.D.
The first Korean woman to receive this honor
Dr. Matsumoto of Seoul University
A married woman cared for three children while maintaining her household and doing five years of diligent research, and her efforts have born fruit in the form of a Medical Ph.D..
Dr. Matsumoto Chitei (31), standing out as the only female assistant in the Department of Pharmacology at Seoul University School of Medicine, recently submitted her dissertation entitled “Pharmacological Studies on the Vascular Center” to the faculty council. She is the first Korean woman to be awarded the honor of Medical Ph.D.. In addition to her main thesis, Dr. Matsumoto’s research was on “The Pharmacological Effects of Camphor Injection on the Human Body”, which she proved with clear answers through field research.
Dr. Matsumoto graduated from Tokyo Women’s Medical College in 1935 and immediately returned home after graduation, where she spent two years conducting research at the Iwai Department of Internal Medicine at Seoul University School of Medicine. In 1937, she joined Osawa Department of Pharmacology, where she has continued her research under the guidance of Professor Osawa. In the meantime, she and her husband had three children and she took care of them all by herself, while having the energy and the drive to devote herself to her research.
When I visited Ms. Matsumoto at her home in Hyoja-dong on the afternoon of May 4th, the newly minted doctor, who was in her last month of pregnancy, expressed her joy as follows with a glow on her face. Photo: Dr. Matsumoto Chitei
“I owe everything to the extraordinary guidance of my teacher, Dr. Osawa. For the past five years, I have been a housewife, leading a double life of family and research, and it has been very difficult at times. However, I wanted to renew the reputation of Korean women, who had previously been used as a synonym for weakness, so I have continued my blazing devotion to my work. What do I want to do now? I would like to devote my life to research for the academic society. However, I am also determined to continue on the path of medicine while devoting myself to my duties as a married woman and a mother.”
Professor Osawa’s statement
“Ms. Matsumoto is a hardworking person with a rare and outstanding mind. As a housewife, she has been able to accomplish her research while supporting her husband. Thus, she is an admirable woman, the likes of which is not seen in Japan proper. Furthermore, although I thought that the research theme would be somewhat difficult for a woman, I let her do it and I was really impressed with her splendid and magnificent results.
She clearly proved whether or not a vascular center exists in the blood vessels of cold-blooded animals, which had been an issue discussed in the pharmacological society, and she also clearly answered the question of the distribution of nerve innervation in the blood vessels, which had also been a question in the past.”