Dr. Anna Lenore Skow Southam conducted extensive research and published widely in the area of reproductive health, infertility, and sterility, and performed some of the earliest clinical evaluations of a rapid immunological pregnancy test.
Little is known about her early life, or her decision to embark on a career in medicine. Born Anna Lenore Skow in 1915 and raised in Northern Idaho, she earned her bachelor of science degree from the University of Idaho in 1942. After she married Dr. Chester M. Southam, she and her husband ran a laboratory at Idaho's Moscow Hospital. She began graduate studies around this time and was accepted into the pre-medical program at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, and earned her medical degree in 1947. Following a year-long internship at Bellevue Hospital, she took the position of assistant resident at the Sloane Hospital for Women from 1947 and 1953.
During her time at the Sloane Hospital, Dr. Southam began publishing the results of her early clinical research. This was focused on reproductive problems in women, particularly the endocrinological aspects of infertility. At the end of her residency in 1953, she became a research assistant in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia, and accepted the position of assistant obstetrician and gynecologist at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. In 1959, Dr. Southam received her diplomate from the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She maintained a lengthy affiliation with Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, eventually becoming associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University and an associate attending obstetrician and gynecologist at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center.
Dr. Southam recorded her research on fertility and sterility in dozens of articles and published regularly in the Sloane Hospital Bulletin. At the same time, she directed the Sloane Hospital Endocrine Clinic at Columbia-Presbyterian for many years, where she cared for women who had difficulty becoming pregnant. Southam worked on testing oral contraceptives as well as testing drugs for inducing ovulation. Notably, she performed the early clinical evaluation for a rapid immunological test for pregnancy. Accounts of her clinical work appeared in the American Journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, Fertility and Sterility, and the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Throughout her career, Dr. Southam volunteered for service on a number of professional committees, including Planned Parenthood, the Human Betterment Association, and the National Committee on Maternal Health. Continuing her public service until late in her career, she embarked on a six-week teaching tour that took her to Taiwan in the early 1960s, followed by a six-month tour of duty as a visiting professor at the All-India Institute for Medical Research. In these roles Dr. Southam worked under the auspices of the Ford Foundation's Population Office, for which she lectured widely and conducted research on population control. Although she retired from Columbia University and Columbia-Presbyterian in 1967, she continued her work for the Ford Foundation for several more years. Shortly after she ended her career in medicine, she wrote a note to the Alumni Office at the University of Idaho, providing a rare glimpse into her personal life. Noting that she enjoyed looking back over the past, Dr. Southam described herself at the age of 76 sitting in her apartment in Santa Monica, California, playing with her grandchildren and admiring the ocean at her front lawn. After savoring her well-deserved retirement, Dr. Anna Southam died in November 1994.