In the course of her long and distinguished medical career, Margaret D. Craighill served as dean of the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania, and became the first woman physician to become a commissioned officer in the United States Army.
Born in Southport, North Carolina, in 1898, Craighill graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Wisconsin in 1921, and earned an M.S. degree there the following year. She then enrolled in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine after a brief stint as a physiologist in the chemical warfare department at the Army's Edgewood (Maryland) Arsenal. Completing her medical studies in 1924, she held a series of postgraduate positions in gynecology, surgery, and pathology at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Yale Medical School.
From 1928 to 1937, Craighill was a private assistant in general surgery to Dr. J. A. McCreery at Bellevue Hospital in New York. During this time she also maintained a private practice in obstetrics and gynecology in Greenwich, Connecticut, and was an assistant surgeon and attending gynecologist at Greenwich Hospital.
Craighill became associated with the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in September 1940 when she was appointed acting dean. Spearheading reforms, Craighill enacted a comprehensive progressive plan that affected the school's medical curriculum, student-faculty relations, and teaching hospital. With America's entry into World War II in 1941, however, Craighill relinquish at her civilian duties for active military service.
On April 16, 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Sparkman-Johnson Bill, allowing women to enter the Army and Navy Medical Corps. One month later, Craighill became the first woman doctor to receive an Army commission. Major Craighill was assigned to serve as a liaison with the newly established Women's Army Corps (WACS). In the course of her duties she traveled 56,000 miles, visiting war zones in England, France, Italy, the African Gold Coast, Egypt, Iran, India, China, New Guinea, and the Philippines. Reporting on the condition of 160,000 Army nurses and WAC personnel, Craighill challenged the persistent notion that American women were unsuited to a military role, noting that they were performing remarkably well in extreme climates and challenging work conditions. She also was responsible for instituting regular physical exams for servicewomen. In recognition of her exemplary wartime service, Craighill was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and awarded the Legion of Merit.
When the war ended in 1945, Craighill became a consultant on women veterans' medical care, the first position of its kind within the Veterans Administration. After a brief return to Woman's Medical College, she entered the first class of the Menninger School of Psychiatry in Topeka, Kansas. Later, she re-established her private practice in Connecticut, and was named chief psychiatrist in residence at the Connecticut College for Women in New London. Craighill died in 1977 at the age of 78 in Southbury, Connecticut.