UPDATED: Sabat Istanbuly, Female Student at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania,1885

This remarkable photograph from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP), found in the archives of Drexel University which absorbed the successor to the WMCP in 2003.

As you can see, one of the women is captioned as “Tabat Islambooly”, from Damascus, Syria. You can’t miss her, or the fact that she’s from around here: she has the same face as thousands of young women from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. She’s also wearing a very Levantine costume, and I say “costume” because I’m quite sure she carried all that metal with her all the way to Pennsylvania in 1885 for the soul purpose of wearing it in exotic international nights. It doesn’t look Damascene to me, but more rural.

Then, there’s the issue of the name. The caption reads “Tabat Islambooly”, but I’m guessing that’s a result of the Latinaization of “Sabat Istanbuly”, or something similar, as “Tabat” isn’t a word in Arabic and I’ve never heard of a family called “Islambooly”. She is referenced elsewhere as “Tabat Istanbuli”.

I’m really interested in who this woman is. I mean… a female from the Levant, studying medicine in Pennsylvania in 1885, at a time when the Arab world was sinking under the backwards Ottoman occupation. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t know much about her. I did find this:

Sabat Islambouli is also believed to have gone back to Damascus, and then was in Cairo, Egypt, in 1919 according to the alumnae list of that year. But after that the college lost touch with her and it’s not known what happened to her ultimately.


So who is this woman? A family-name search on Bayt.com People tells me that there are many Istanbuli’s from Amman, Jordan. I’m assuming many in Damacus as well, but Syria isn’t very online these days, sadly.

Do you know anyone from the Istanbuli family? Does anyone have a doctor for a great grandmother?

Updated: So, I found more information, thanks to Najeeb :) Thabat Islambooly is a Kurdish Jewish woman. Yes, her family name was Islambooly, and not Istanbuly; I guess the fact that she’s both Kurdish and Jewish clarifies why I’m not familiar with the last name. Thabat moved to Cairo after finishing her degree in Pennsylvania, and died in 1941. Her descendants live in Canada.