Celebrating America's Women Physicians

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Setting Their Sights
Making Their Mark
Changing Medicine
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Confronting Glass Ceilings

By the early 1900s, women had made impressive inroads into the medical profession as physicians, but few had been encouraged to pursue careers as medical researchers. To succeed as scientists, despite opposition from male colleagues at leading institutions, women physicians persisted in gaining access to mentors, laboratory facilities, and research grants to build their careers.

The achievements of these innovators often went unrewarded or unacknowledged for years. Yet these resourceful researchers carved paths for other women to follow and eventually gained recognition for their contributions to medical science.

Full face right side view of Dr. Florence Rena Sabin wearing glasses.
Dr. Florence Rena Sabin
Artifact Interactive: Dr. Florence Rena Sabin

Florence Rena Sabin was one of the first women physicians to build a career as a research scientist. She was the first woman on the faculty at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, building an impressive reputation for her work in embryology and histolology (the study of tissues). She also overturned the traditional explanation of the development of the lymphatic system by proving that it developed from the veins in the embryo and grew out into tissues, and not the other way around. READ MORE

Dr. May Edward Chinn

In 1926 May Edward Chinn became the first African American woman to graduate from the University and Bellevue Hospital Medical College. She practiced medicine in Harlem for fifty years. A tireless advocate for poor patients with advanced, often previously untreated diseases, she became a staunch supporter of new methods to detect cancer in its earliest stages. READ MORE

Left side, face view of Dr. May Edward Chinn
Full face photograph of Dr. Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori
Dr. Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori
Video: Dr. Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori Transcript: Dr. Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori

Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori and her husband, Dr. Carl Cori, were the first married couple to receive a Nobel Prize in science. Gerty Cori was only the third woman ever to win a Nobel Prize, and was the first woman in America to do so. READ MORE

Video: Dr. Louise Pearce Transcript: Dr. Louise Pearce
Dr. Louise Pearce

Louise Pearce, M.D., a physician and pathologist, was one of the foremost women scientists of the early 20th century. Her research with pathologist Wade Hampton Brown led to a cure for trypanosomiasis (African Sleeping sickness) in 1919. READ MORE

Full face photograph of Dr. Louise Pearce wearing glasses.
Full face photograph of Dr. Anna Wessels Williams wearing glasses.
Dr. Anna Wessels Williams
Video: Dr. Anna Wessels Williams Transcript: Dr. Anna Wessels Williams

Anna Wessels Williams, M.D., worked at the first municipal diagnostic laboratory in the United States, at the New York City Department of Health. She isolated a strain of diphtheria that was instrumental in the development of an antitoxin for the disease. She was a firm believer in the collaborative nature of laboratory science, and helped build some of the more successful teams of bacteriologists, which included many women, working in the country at the time. READ MORE

Video: Dr. Jane Cooke Wright Transcript: Dr. Jane Cooke Wright
Dr. Jane Cooke Wright

Dr. Jane Wright analyzed a wide range of anti-cancer agents, explored the relationship between patient and tissue culture response, and developed new techniques for administering cancer chemotherapy. By 1967, she was the highest ranking African American woman in a United States medical institution. READ MORE

Right side face view of Dr. Jane Cooke Wright