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.

28 thoughts on “UPDATED: Sabat Istanbuly, Female Student at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania,1885”

  1. I believe “Islambul” was the original name of “Istanbul”, which explains her last name.

  2. I don’t think that her name is Islambooly, if you think about it ;istanbooly means a combination of place and the name of the city and this makes more sense.
    I think that she is from Aleppo,I have far relatives with this family name,they are Christians.

  3. Islambouly from lebanon and we beleive that the origin is turkish, I am intrested to know more about this women due to that i will start my research.

  4. There is a Istambuly family in Aleppo. The name Istanbul or Istanbul refers to Istambul in Turkey. Many families in Aleppo have their origin in Turkey. I don’t think she is Jewish as the name Islambooly refers to Islam , therefore she cannot be Jewish.

  5. My curiosity to know more about this woman led me to this nice page. Nice work I wish I could know more about here

  6. It was customary to name a person with a first name an/or with the city of origin in Ottoman Turkey until the last name law of early 20th century. Istanbul’lu means a person from Istanbul. Striking resemblance isn’t it. I found that my grandfathather’s name ( born c. 1900) was Kadri Ortakoy (“Ortakoy” benig a district of Istanbul today).

  7. Never knew about this! My family (Istanboulis) recently shared this to a group we’re in and I just came across this. They are majority Syrian (my father is Syrian from Damascus/Aleppo) but I was born in America as my mother is Egyptian. What’s even more insane is that two of us live in Philadelphia right now! Awesome, awesome, awesome. Thank you for this.

  8. Istanbuli is a big family in Aleppo and Damascus, although Sabat is not a common name I believe Sabah could’ve been her name.
    Sabah Istanbuli is maybe the closest to be her real name and yes so many Syrians has an open mind to send their kids to western countries to study.

  9. the original name Islambooly, also wrot islambouli, cames from Damascus and beyrout in Syria, it is derived from the name of “Istanbul” also wrot Istammboul. but
    dans le titre de l’article vous avez changé son nom, she is not Sabat istanbuli, son nom est Tabat Islambooly, c’est un grand différence

  10. in the title of the article you have changed his name, she is not istanbuli Sabat, his name is Islambooly Tabat, this is a big difference

  11. is she was Kurd and Jewess possible her family name came from Isambawil wIch is comon name but Islamboole or Istanboool not make any sens

  12. according to her Kurdish cloth she was a Kurdish Jewish and i think islamboole totally wrong first if she has such family name 150 years ago she wouldn’t be allow travel so far !
    secend also istanboole same Islamic background but possible her was Sabat which is Kurdish female Name and Family name i think they pronounced wrong from (باولءسام) Esam Bawil to something else

  13. Whichever place she is from, it is mentioned Syria Damascus in 1885, and yes it is one of Syrian traditional dresses, she seems so into syrian culture eventhough she left the country to study. Other than that it is all speculations.
    Note that Dr. tabat M. (M is referred to mohamed i guess) which cannot be jewish.

  14. Her first name is Thabat with a th (light c) , means steady in Arabic it could be a Jewish name too. Islambooly is a name that tell the origin of the family where they are from. It does sound Turkish, then remember history at that time the Ottoman turks were all over the Middle East including historic Syria. The Arab revolution then the French getting into Syria after the Sykes- Picot agreement in 1916 that decided the area an created today’s Syria’s boundaries.
    Before Syrian was call mostly people from the greater Damascus area, all the way connecting to ancient levant.
    If I have to make a scientific guess, I would say she is a Jew from Damascus. A well know Jewish family of Islambouli still has roots in Damascus.
    Not Istambouly , that is different.
    Easiest way to know the true facts is to get the information from the old archives of the civil status in Damascus. They have them all, it goes way back.
    You can also send a request to the Ambassador or Syrian consul in Washington DC.
    If they still exist, you might be surprised how they would answer.
    It might take time but I think it is worth it.
    Next time when I go to Damascus I will search for it in few years.
    If you search for Jewish wardrobe in Syria in the 1800 you might decide about her religious background.

    A strong Jewish community existed there too.

  15. Sabat is the shortened version of Eliasabath, the Levantine pronunciation of the name Elisabeth, and was a common first name for girls among Levantine Christians and Jews. As for the last name, it is also also often spelled Stambouli in Syria and Lebanon. The Ottomans had changed the name of the city from the Greek-derived Istamboul to Islamboul to have it mean “the city of Islam”, and it is quite possible that her family had to adopt that form on their travel documents.

  16. A fitting tribute to the three intrepid trailblazing ladies this women’s day of March 8, 2018.

  17. The word Istanbul did not exist at that time, even under the Ottoman called Stambol not Istanbul

  18. Sabat is a Kurdish female name , till the moment there are 1000s of females with the name ( sabat ) , sabat means anything that have shade in a hot sunny day and man can keep to himself and remain under it in its shade so as to be cool , in Kurdish culture every nice , beautiful , cool and alike can be used as female name .All the world knows that Kurdistan is divided on 4 countrys which are ( Iran , Syria , Iraq and Turkey ) and occupied since Chalderan War between Ottomans And Iranians . Thus the Kurd people have no national identity , cause they are belonging to the countries that hold them within , So Sabat is a Kurdish in nationality , Jewish in religion and Syrian by identity only . best wishes and regards .

  19. SALAAM, TABAT is arab name, and ISLAMBOULY is also a well known arab name, she was neither Kurdish no Jewish, but Muslim as indicated in her names.
    I feel sorry for the ones that work so hard at corrupting history, caus in end truth will always prevail; thanx for making the necessary adjustments.

  20. Hello. May name is Nadine Stambouli. born in Egypt and live in São Paulo Brazil. as told by my father (Raymond Stambouli) , my grandfather´s family is from Damascus and Aleppo.

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