|Also, I know how much you missed it last week, so LGBT People & Allies in Medicine is proud to present ‘History has been set a little TOO straight v.2’ for your reading pleasure. Read on below to find out some of the amazing contributions made through history by lesbian physicians, including tracking down Typhoid Mary, developing an early cure for African sleeping sickness (trypanosomiasis), seving as the first resident physician at Yale's department of pediatrics and founding of one of the first training hospitals for female doctors in the United States. Read on below to find out more about these remarkable doctors, and tune in later this week for volume 3 – exposing the contributions of trans individuals to medicine & healthcare.
Dr. Martha May Eliot (1891-1978) Born in 1891 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, Martha Eliot started her academic career by studying classical literature at Radcliffe College, followed by a year at Bryn Mawr College. It was at Bryn Mawr where she met Ethel Collins Dunham, another future physician, who was to become her life partner (both shown at left). The two enrolled at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine together in 1914. The pair intended to spend their internships together as well, but the director of pediatrics at Hopkins was only willing to accept one woman, and while Dr. Dunham trained as the first female intern in the Johns Hopkins Pediatrics Department, Dr. Eliot instead went to Brigham Hospital in Boston for her training. In 1921, Eliot was invited to become the first chief resident in Edwards A. Park's new Department of Pediatrics at Yale Medical School, working at New Haven Hospital. In 1924, she was named director of the Children's Bureau's Division of Child and Maternal Health, a position that allowed her time to do research on rickets that ended up providing clinical recommendations that dramatically decreased incidence of the disease in the United States. In 1948, she was the first woman elected president of the American Public Health Association (APHA); she was awarded the Lasker Medal in 1948 for her work during World War II and the Sedgwick Memorial Medal (the APHA's highest honour) in 1958; awarded the John Howland Medal (the American Pediatric Society's highest honour) in 1967. In addition to all these honors, she was only woman to sign the founding document of the World Health Organization (WHO), and was one of the only women of her era to attain high office in public health, as the assistant director general of the WHO from 1949 until her death. Dr. Eliot died on February 14, 1978, nine years after the death of Dr. Dunham, her partner of 59 years.
Dr. Louise Pearce (1885-1959). Born in Winchester, Massachusetts, in 1885, the future Dr. Pearce started to break expectations by graduating from Stanford with a bachelor's degree in physiology in 1907, a very unusual degree for a woman student at that time. She attended Boston University School of Medicine, and after two years transferred to John Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, where she received her M.D. in 1912. She worked as a house officer there for a year before boldly requesting a position at the Rockefeller Institute, which would be her academic home for the rest of her life. Simon Flexner, the director of the Rockefeller Institute, turned Dr. Pearce towards the study of African sleeping sickness (trypanosomiasis), and she and her colleagues discovered the first effective treatment, tryparsamide, in 1919. In 1920, there was a very serious outbreak of trypanosomiasis in the Belgian Congo, and Dr. Pearce took volunteered to go alone to Leopoldville to test it on patients in the hospitals there. Tryparsamide ended up curing over 100,000 people with African sleeping sickness and the grateful Belgian government granted her the order of the Crown of Belgium, and in 1953 the Royal Order of the Lion, for her work. Her later career focused on susceptibility or resistance to infection and transplantable tumors, including the one that bears her name, the Brown-Pearce tumor. She spent the last years of her life with two other prominent lesbians of her era, her partner, noted author I.A.R. Wylie, and Ms. Wylie’s former partner, the noted physician Dr. Sara Josephine Baker, at a farmhouse in Skillman, New Jersey.
Dr. Sara Josephine Baker (1873-1945) Born in 1873 in Poughkeepsie, New York, Sara Baker gave up a full scholarship to Vassar College to train as a physician after her fathers sudden death when she was 16 years old. She joined the Woman's Medical College of the New York Infirmary in 1894, which had been founded by Dr. Emily Blackwell in 1868, and was helped by the network of supportive female physicians there to find an internship at internship at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston, and later on, a post as assistant commissioner of health in New York city, where she was instrumental in tracking down ‘Typhoid Mary’, a cook who unwittingly caused a small epidemic of the disease in the city. 1908, Dr. Baker was appointed director of the city's new Bureau of Child Hygiene, where she started innovative and instrumental programs that included health education in the city's immigrant communities, school health programs, training in infant health for girls age 12 and older, who were children’s primary caretakers in many homes, and many more programs. Her incredible work is most strongly reflected by the fact that her tenure lead to New York city having the lowest infant death rate in any American or European city during the 1910’s. Her long partnership with author I.A.R. Wylie, with whom she shared an apartment in New York, and later, a house in New Jersey, is detailed in autobiography of Ms. Wylie, who later became the partner of Dr. Louise Pearce, following Dr. Baker’s death in 1945.
Dr. Emily Blackwell (1826-1910) Born in 1826, Emily Blackwell’s achievements are sometimes overshadowed by those of her older sister, Elizabeth Blackwell, who in January 1849 became the first modern female physician, graduating first in her medical school class at Geneva Medical College, where she had been admitted as a practical joke. Dr. Emily Blackwell’s path was not much easier despite her sister’s pioneering ways. She was rejected by 11 medical schools simply for being a woman, and while accepted by Rush Medical College in Chicago, the Illinois medical society laid such pressure on the school that they denied her further training after only 1 year of school. After much effort and independent study, she was finally accepted into Western Reserve University's medical school in Cleveland, Ohio, where she earned her M.D. degree in 1854. Following her degree and two years of clinical study in Europe, Dr. Emily Blackwell, joined her sister (who was frustrated by the active discrimination that she faced as a female physician) and Dr. Marie Zakrzewska in founding the New York Infirmary for Women and Children in 1857. Dr. Zakrzewska and the elder Dr. Blackwell worked tirelessly for two years to found the institution, but then left to pursue other interests, leaving Dr. Emily Blackwell responsible for maintaining and growing the institution to an incredible degree. The small clinic at 64 Bleecker Street, would over the next forty years, and the able management of Emily Blackwell, eventually become both a medical college for women, where her sister wasprovide training, experience and networking for women doctors and a hospital providing medical care for over 7,000 indigent patients annually. The hospital and school remained open until 1898 when Cornell’s medical school adopted the student body. Dr. Blackwell adopted a daughter in 1871, and at the age of fifty, found the first romantic relationship of her life with Dr. Elizabeth Cushier, which lasted until Emily's death in 1910.
Hansen: “Public Careers and Private Sexuality: Some Gay and Lesbian Lives in the History of Medicine and Public Health.” Am J Public Health, Volume 92(1).January 2002.36-44
Parry: “Martha May Eliot: "Spinster in Steel Specs, Adviser on Maternity." Am J Public Health, Volume 94(8).August 2004.1322
Corner, G.W. The History of the Rockefeller Institute, 1901-1953. Rockefeller Institute Press, NY, 1964
"Louise Pearce: A 'Magic Bullet' for African Sleeping Sickness", Hospital Practice 27(1), January 15, 1992, p.207
“Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America’s Women Physicians” at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/exhibition/
Faderman, Lillian. To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America - A History. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.
“Influential lesbians in U.S. history” at http://content.gay.com/channels/news/women/slideshow1.html