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Women Info

The pioneering women depicted in our banner represent only a small sampling of the multitude of women who have shaped and who continue to shape the field of medicine. We have provided a brief bio of each below. You may click their names for more details. Information for this section was gained primarily from the National Library of Medicine's Changing the Face of Medicine web site, which is a wonderful tool for discovering "the many ways that women have influenced and enhanced the practice of medicine." 

Dr. Virginia Apgar

Dr. Virginia Apgar (1909-1974) 
Dr. Apgar has been labeled a pioneer in anesthesiology, even though she initially desired to be a surgeon, but was persuaded in another direction most likely due to gender discrimination. She is best known for designing and introducing the Apgar Score, the first standardized method for evaluating a newborn's transition to life outside the womb. She was also the first woman at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons to be named both a division head and a full professor. Apgar earned her Masters in Public Health later in life and devoted herself from that point on to the prevention of birth defects through educating and research fundraising. She also served as Director for what is now known as the March of Dimes.

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) 
Miss Nightingale gained fame during the Crimean War for her work in introducing nurses to the military hospitals of Turkey. "Her greatest achievement was to raise nursing to the level of a respectable profession for women." She spent the remainder of her life after the war diligently training nurses and campaigning for improved health standards.

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) 
Dr. Blackwell was the first woman to receive a M.D. degree from an American medical school after being voted into Geneva Medical College as a "joke" by the male students. She co-founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children in 1857, which included a medical college for women that opened in 1867. There she provided training for women doctors and medical care for the poor. She continued to campaign for medical reform even after her retirement in the late 1870's.

Clara Barton

Clara Barton (1821-1912) 
Clara Barton, the former teacher and patent office clerk, gained glory for her work on the battlefields during the Civil War. This is how she received her nickname, "The Angel of the Battlefield." In 1870, she joined the relief efforts in France to serve those suffering the strains of war between France and Prussia, which is where she first saw the newly founded Red Cross at work. After returning to the United States, Ms. Barton worked tirelessly to establish the American Red Cross, which she accomplished in 1881.

Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte

Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte (1865-1915) 
Dr. Picotte was the first American Indian woman in the United States to receive a medical degree, graduating at the top of her class at the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1889. After her internship, she returned to the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska to care for more than 1,200 of her own native people at the government boarding school. She opened a hospital in the reservation town of Walthill, Nebraska in 1913, two years before her death.

Dr. Georgia Rooks Dwelle

Dr. Georgia Rooks Dwelle (1884-1977) 
Dr. Dwelle, the daughter of a slave, was the first Spelman College graduate to attend medical school and relied on special tutoring and extra classes in order to ultimately graduate with honors from Meharry Medical College in Nashville. After graduation, she took the Georgia State Medical Board exam in 1904, and was the highest scorer on the test that year. Upon moving back to Atlanta and seeing the terrible conditions of the city's poorest black residents, she opened the Dwelle Infirmary, which was the first general hospital for African-Americans, the first "lying-in" obstetrical hospital for African-American women, and eventually the first all-black clinic for venereal disease in Atlanta. Dr. Dwelle was an active member of the Atlanta community, and she served as Vice President of the National Medical Association, a professional organization for black physicians. She said that she "had an inborn instinct for Social Work" and "found an the practice of medicine."

Dr. Emily Blackwell

Dr. Emily Blackwell (1826-1910) 
Dr. Blackwell, with her sister Elizabeth Blackwell and their colleague Marie Zakrzewska, co-founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children in 1857. She took over sole management of the infirmary two years later, overseeing surgery, nursing, and bookkeeping. Her excellent administrative skills led to continued growth of the small infirmary to a larger hospital serving over 7,000 patients annually by 1874.

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919) 
Dr. Walker was the first woman awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. She volunteered as a nurse in the Union effort during the Civil War and had a legendary service record, which included the position of appointed Surgeon to an Ohio Regiment. She was also a prisoner of war. Her work as a physician as well as her continued advocacy for women's rights caused controversy throughout her life, especially when it came to her attire. By the 1870's, she had taken to exclusively wearing men's clothing, and was arrested several times for impersonating a man. In her own words, "I am the original new woman...I have prepared the way for the girl in knickerbockers."

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