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Dr. Dorothy Reed Mendenhall

Year of Birth / Death

1874 - 1964

Medical School

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine



Career Path

Public health
Pediatric medicine
Research: Cellular pathology
Dr. Dorothy Reed Mendenhall


Dr. Dorothy Reed Mendenhall discovered the blood cell disorder characteristic of Hodgkin’s disease, known as the Reed cell (sometimes the Reed-Sternberg).


Dorothy Reed Mendenhall was prompted to consider a medical career as a result of her family's financial decline, despite opposition from relatives.


Dr. Dorothy Reed Mendenhall proved that Hodgkin's disease was not a form of tuberculosis, and discovered the blood cell disorder characteristic of the disease.

Dorothy Reed was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1874. Her father died when she was only six years old, but the family was initially financially secure thanks to the proceeds from his shoe manufacturing company. Unfortunately, the funds did not last. Like S. Josephine Baker, Dorothy was prompted to consider a medical career as a result of her family's financial decline, despite opposition from relatives. She studied chemistry and physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1895, after graduating from Smith College. A year later enrolled at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Dorothy Reed's studies at Hopkins were difficult but productive, and although she often felt unwelcome in the male-dominated environment, she attained a series of impressive academic achievements. In 1900, she won a prestigious internship with Dr. William Osler, and in 1901 she won a pathology fellowship with Dr. William Welch. Working in the Hopkins laboratories, she discovered a blood-cell disorder that was linked to Hodgkin's disease, now known as the Reed cell (or the Reed-Sternberg cell, after Dorothy Reed and Karl Sternberg, an Austrian pathologist), and gained international recognition for her work.

After graduating in 1903 she moved to New York to complete an internship in pediatrics at Babies Hospital. She married Charles Elwood Mendenhall in 1906. She then moved to Madison, Wisconsin with her husband, where he was professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin. For the next few years, Dr. Mendehall put her family before her career and, after losing her first child at birth, had three more children. She returned to her medical work very gradually, lecturing on public health issues to raise money to educate her deceased sister's children. She researched health issues and wrote bulletins for the University of Wisconsin's Department of Home Economics and the Wisconsin State Board of Health, and the U.S Department of Agriculture.

While she struggled to balance family life with her career in medicine, some male practitioners suggested her family obligations and her focus on public health indicated a lack of interest in serious medicine and a waste of her medical education. Alice Hamiltontold her that, at Harvard Medical School, she was described as "an able woman who had married and failed to use her expensive medical education" in their debate over the admission of women to the school.

In 1917 the family moved to Washington, D.C., and Dr. Mendenhall took a job at the Children's Bureau, where she worked for the rest of her career, undertaking research on children's health issues. In 1926 she investigated infant and maternal mortality rates in Denmark and compared them with American statistics. In 1929, the Children's Bureau published a full study based on her research model, Midwifery in Denmark, which concluded that the higher death rates in America were caused by unnecessary medical intervention. Despite pressure from those colleagues in medicine who had little time for women physicians or issues of women's health, Dr. Mendenhall continued to apply her rigorous scientific training to some of the most contentious issues of the day.

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