Mary Catherine Raugust Howell, M.D., a founder of the National Women's Health Network, spent her career working to help women gain wider acceptance in medical schools and better access to equal medical treatment.
Born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in 1932, Mary Raugust attended Radcliffe College, where she studied linguistics and music and earned her B.A. in 1954. She continued her studies at the University of Minnesota, completing an M.A. in psychology 1956. During this period, she also married and gave birth to a son. After her marriage failed she decided on a career in medicine, specializing in pediatrics. She applied to the University of Minnesota Medical School and an admissions officer told her that it would be a waste of time and money to allow her to study medicine as she would only get married and leave the profession in a few years. In 1962, Dr. Howell not only earned a medical degree, but a doctorate in psychology as well.
She remained in Minnesota for seven years, serving as an instructor in pediatrics at her alma mater. Then, in 1969, she moved back Boston to join the faculty at Harvard Medical School as an instructor in pediatrics. Over the next three years she rose to become an assistant professor of pediatrics and chief of the behavior unit in the Children's Service of the Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1972, she advanced to become associate dean of student affairs, the first woman to hold such a position at Harvard.
But Dr. Howell was far from sanguine about her new job. "Harvard got tremendous mileage out of my appointment," she noted wryly. She was well aware that associate dean of student affairs was considered a safe place to put her, and an easy concession to the women's movement.
While as associate dean of student affairs at Harvard Medical School, she wrote the book Why Would a Girl Go into Medicine? Medical Education in the United States: A Guide for Women, under the pen name Margaret Campbell. Based on a survey of approximately 200 female medical students, Dr. Howell's study showed that sex discrimination and poor treatment of female medical students by colleagues and institutions alike were still endemic. Indeed, the fact that she felt compelled to use a pseudonym spoke volumes about the kinds of difficulties and lack of opportunities that even the most accomplished women could expect to find in the medical profession.
While at Harvard, she also helped organize one of the first national conferences on women's health ever held in the United States. A significant outcome of that conference was the National Women's Health Network, an organization that successfully lobbied for a general improvement in the treatment of women by the medical profession, both as doctors and patients. Through her involvement with the Boston Women's Health Book Collective and related organizations, she contributed to groundbreaking publications including: Our Bodies, Ourselves: A Book by and for Women, Changing Bodies, Changing Lives, and Ourselves, Growing Older.
Shortly after the conference, Dr. Howell left Harvard and started a private pediatric practice in York, Maine. In 1978 she published a book about her experiences, Healing at Home: A Guide to Health Care for Children. Eventually, she returned to Harvard to earn a doctorate in law in 1991 and to serve as a member of the school's Division of Medical Ethics. Her last professional appointment was executive director of a private adoption agency in Watertown, Massachusetts.