Dr. Edith M. Lincoln, a pediatrician who pioneered the use of drugs for treating tuberculosis in children, was head of the children's "chest clinic" at Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan from 1922 until her retirement in 1956.
Born in New York City, Edith Maas graduated from Vassar College in 1912 with a stunning academic record that won her admission to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She received her medical degree in 1916. In 1917 she became one of the first women physicians to be accepted as an intern at Bellevue Hospital. She recalled later that she was advised to take her meals with the nurses, but insisted on eating with the other interns. She married Asa Lincoln in 1917 and the couple had two children.
After completing her training in pediatrics, Dr. Lincoln was appointed to start the children's chest clinic at Bellevue in 1922. She joined the faculty at the New York University School of Medicine in 1930 and twenty years later was named a clinical professor of pediatrics.
Many of the pediatric patients that Dr. Lincoln saw at her clinic came from low income families who received public assistance and lived in crowded conditions. In the 1930s, one of every five children admitted to the tuberculosis ward of Bellevue Hospital died of the disease, usually within a year. Most of these children were first diagnosed in the hospital because a tuberculin test was part of the examination on admission. Sadly, the death rate of children with tuberculosis remained unchanged until streptomycin became available late in 1947.
Dr. Lincoln was instrumental in studying the effect of drugs on reducing the death rate of children from a first infection of tuberculosis, often called primary tuberculosis. In 1949, working with grants from the Federal Public Health Service and the National Tuberculosis Association, she found that a dozen children treated in her chest clinic with streptomycin and promizole recovered from tuberculous meningitis (an acute inflammation of the cerebral tissues caused by the tubercle bacillus) and miliary tuberculosis (which spreads throughout the body via the bloodstream), two forms of the disease that had almost always been fatal.
When the drug isoniazid became available, she undertook a clinical experiment that showed that children with pulmonary tuberculosis who were treated with the new drug avoided developing tuberculous meningitis. Before that, tuberculous meningitis caused 60 percent of deaths from primary tuberculosis.
In 1939 Dr. Lincoln was named chair of the pediatric section of the New York Academy of Medicine. In 1951 she received the Elizabeth Blackwell citation given annually to an outstanding woman physician; and in 1959 she was awarded the Trudeau Medal of the National Tuberculosis Association for her early work with chemotherapy for the treatment of childhood tuberculosis.