Women physicians participate in professional dialogue when they publish their research. Discover a selection of books and articles from the NLM Digital Collections about both their scientific research and their experiences in a male-dominated field.
Medicine as a Profession for Women, Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, 1860
Sisters and physicians, Elizabeth (1821–1910) and Emily Blackwell (1826–1910) delivered this lecture in December 1859. At the time, some male members of the medical profession in New York City were considering opening the profession to women. The Blackwells argued that opening medicine to women would benefit both individual patients and society at large. According to the Blackwells, women were uniquely suited to medicine because of, not despite of, their social position. In addition to the general case for women in medicine, Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell presented some suggestions for improving medical education.
The Question of Rest for Women During Menstruation, Mary Putnam Jacobi, 1877
In 1876, Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi (1842–1906) wrote The Question of Rest for Women During Menstruation. The essay won the prestigious Boylston Prize at Harvard University. In this influential paper she refuted the supposed physical limitations of women, in response to Dr. Edward H. Clarke’s publication Sex in Education; or, A Fair Chance for the Girls (1873), which questioned the expanded role of women in society and the professions. Dr. Jacobi provided tables, statistics, and sphygmographic tracings of pulse rate, force, and variations to illustrate the stability of a woman’s health, strength, and agility throughout her monthly cycle. Jacobi’s paper and example proved the accuracy of her position.
A Book of Medical Discourses: In Two Parts, Rebecca L. Crumpler, 1883
Dr. Rebecca L. Crumpler (1833–1895) wrote A Book of Medical Discourses, the first medical text published by an African American woman. She intended for this book to be useful to every woman who was expected to provide nursing care to her family. Crumpler described practical, domestic remedies for many ailments. Her advice covered everything from when to marry, to how to care for a newborn, to general scientific information about anatomy and development.
“Lead Poisoning in the United States,” American Journal of Public Health, Alice Hamilton, June 1914
Dr. Alice Hamilton (1869–1970) established the field of industrial medicine in the United States. In this article, Dr. Hamilton explained why American workers are vulnerable to lead poisoning at rates higher than their peers in other countries. In addition to reviewing past research on the effects of lead poisoning in dangerous trades, Hamilton discussed the role of company physicians in protecting worker safety and health.
“The Effect of X-Ray on the Skin of Vitally Stained White Mice,” The Journal of Experimental Medicine, Gerty T. Cori, 1924
After immigrating to the United States in 1922, Gerty T. Cori (1896–1957) worked at the State Institute for the Study of Malignant Diseases in Buffalo, New York. Although most well-known for her research with her husband, Dr. Carl Cori, into carbohydrate metabolism, the two scientists researched many topics. In this article, Dr. Gerty Cori described her research into the effect of x-rays on the skin of mice. In addition Gerty Cori attempted to establish a standard unit of x-ray energy that could be applied to humans.
Infant Care, Martha May Eliot, Ethel Collins Dunham, and Marian Minor Crane, 1938
The United States Bureau of Child Welfare, a federal agency housed in the Department of Labor, published several editions of Infant Welfare in the early 20th century. Dr. Martha May Eliot (1891–1978), who worked for the Bureau’s Division of Child and Maternal Health, contributed to the revised edition in 1929. She continued to edit and update the book with new research and insights throughout the 1930s. This illustrated booklet instructed new parents on caring for their infants. Topics included how to properly feed a child, prevent colds and other illnesses, sleep, play, and care for premature, ill, or injured babies.
“Diagnosis of the Tetralogy of Fallot and Medical Aspects of the Surgical Treatment,” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, Helen Taussig, 1947
Dr. Helen Taussig (1898–1987) began this article by describing the tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect. Also called “blue baby” syndrome, children born with this condition often turn blue because blood does not flow through their hearts correctly. As a result, oxygen fails to circulate through the body. Dr. Taussig described how to diagnose the condition using patient symptoms, a physical exam, and x-ray images. She then outlined the indications for surgical correction and briefly explained the surgical procedure. The article closed with a description of potential complications.
“A Proposal for a New Method of Evaluation of the Newborn Infant,” Current Researches in Anesthesia and Analgesia, Virginia Apgar, 1953
Doctors still evaluate the health of newborn babies using the Apgar Score. In this article, Dr. Virginia Apgar (1909–1974) introduced a standardized way to determine a baby’s transition to life outside the womb. The signs used include: heart rate, respiratory effort, reflex irritability, muscle tone, and color. Apgar had doctors check these signs one minute after birth and assign a score of 0, 1, or 2. A baby that scores a 10 is considered in the best possible health.
“Illegal Abortion as a Public Health Problem,” American Journal of Public Health and the Nation’s Health, Mary Steichen Calderone, 1960
Dr. Mary Steichen Calderone (1904–1998) worked as the medical director for Planned Parenthood in 1960. In this article, she reported on the findings of a panel of experts who studied the question of illegal abortion in the mid-1950s. She explained that physicians lacked clarity about the legality of abortion, and that income and personal wealth determined women’s access to legal abortions. Dr. Calderone did not identify as “for abortion,” but did support efforts to prevent abortion (e.g., sex education and access to birth control) and to reduce the number of illegal and/or dangerous abortions in the United States. She charged health officials to have the courage to face this emotional, stigmatized procedure with energy and honesty.
“One Hundred Pregnant Adolescents, Treatment Approaches in a University Hospital,” American Journal of Public Health, Helen Octavia Dickens et. al., 1973
In this article, Dr. Helen O. Dickens (1909–2001) and her co-authors explored various aspects of teenage pregnancy. Among other questions, the authors investigated the health and emotional state of young mothers before, during, and after the delivery of their children, their plans for the care of their children and desire to have more children, their plans to return to school or work, and their interest in using contraceptives. They also examined the effect of intense, personal contact between hospital staff and young mothers before and after their delivery.
“Preventing Disease and Promoting Health in the Minority Community,” Journal of the National Medical Association, Edith Jones, 1986
Each month during her tenure as president of the National Medical Association, an organization founded to represent African American physicians when the American Medical Association was still segregated, Dr. Edith Irby Jones (b. 1927) contributed a brief column to the Journal of the National Medical Association. Topics included the use of computers in medical practice, the role of health insurance companies in constraining access to care, and this column on health inequities in minority communities. In this piece, Jones was especially critical of the part that HMOs, PPOs, and other organizations play in excluding the elderly, poor, and racial or ethnic minorities from healthcare. She also pushed for greater attention to the root causes of illness.
“Buying Time for the Good Things in Life,” The Western Journal of Medicine, Linda M. Dairiki Shortliffe, December 1988
In this short contribution to the Western Journal of Medicine’s section on “Women and Medicine: Surviving and Thriving,” Dr. Linda M. Dairiki Shortliffe (b. 1949) described the challenges facing women who want to have children while working as physicians. Dr. Shortliffe explained that her efforts to achieve “balance” between her work and professional life forced her and her family to reevaluate their personal, professional, and financial priorities.
Sickle Cell Anemia, Marilyn Hughes Gaston, 1990
Beginning in 1976, Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston (b. 1939) began a long association with the National Institutes for Health as a medical expert, and later, as deputy branch chief of the Sickle Cell Disease Branch. In this pamphlet intended for a general audience, Dr. Gaston described sickle cell anemia, an inherited blood disorder. She described the origins and symptoms of sickle cell anemia before providing a brief introduction to the role that genetics plays in the development of the condition. She closed the pamphlet with information about treatment and a question and answer section.
“Women’s Health, Women’s Lives, Women’s Rights,” American Journal of Public Health, Helen Rodríguez-Trías, May 1992
In this brief editorial introducing a special edition of the American Journal of Public Health dedicated to women’s health, pediatrician and public health professional Dr. Helen Rodríguez-Trías (1929–2001) invoked language drawn from the women’s movement. She used “centrality” and “totality” to explain how public health officials should center the experiences of individual women and understand those experiences as part of a larger social system. Dr. Rodríguez-Trías closed her brief editorial by calling for women to fully participate in the development of policies that impact them.
“Cancer Journey for American Indians and Alaska Natives in the Pacific Northwest,” Oncology Nursing Forum, Lori Alvord, et. al., September 2016
Dr. Lori Arviso Alvord (b. 1958) and her co-authors described the unique cultural needs of American Indians and Alaskan Natives undergoing treatment for cancer. In focus groups, patients discussed a variety of factors influence cancer treatment, including spirituality, strained communication between patients and medical professionals, finances, family involvement, and more. The authors created a conceptual model of their findings that drew on indigenous knowledge and worldviews to illustrate these themes.
“Eliminating Child Health Disparities: A Call to Action,” Journal of the National Medical Association, Antonia C. Novello, 2006
While serving as the New York State Commissioner of Health in 2004, former Surgeon General Dr. Antonia C. Novello (b. 1944) delivered this lecture at Howard University. She charged the audience with closing the gap between what medical professionals say about health disparities and what they in fact do about them. Drawing on her experience as a pediatrician and the nation’s highest medical officer, Dr. Novello explained the importance of providing care to people free from judgement or shame. She outlined the challenges facing physicians working to eliminate child health disparities, including poverty, a lack of culturally competent care, and a lack of health education in poor and minority communities.
“Historically Black Medical Schools: Addressing the Minority Health Professional Pipeline,” Journal of the National Medical Association, Joan Reede, et. al., 2009
Dr. Joan Reede (b. 1953) was one of several co-authors of this article about the role of historically black medical schools in the effort to eliminate health inequities. The article outlined some of the economic realities constraining the development of historically black medical schools, and then examined several initiatives undertaken by these schools to sustain their students and faculty. Dr. Reede and her coauthors make a strong case for increasing support for historically black medical schools as part of an effort to ensure that the nation has a supply of medical professionals prepared to provide care to communities in need.