This exhibit highlights the groundbreaking achievements of select alumna and faculty at NYU Langone Medical Center. From challenging traditional gender roles in medical education, to transforming the field of medicine, women have made great contributions to all facets of the medical profession.
Women interested in medicine in the early 20th century faced incredible barriers. On the heels of the growing struggle for women’s suffrage in the late 19th century, women campaigned for equality in education and the workplace. Medical education during this time period was off limits to women, who were considered ill-suited to science and research.
Working against harsh societal limtations, female physicians found ways to overcome these obstacles, opening their own schools and hospitals, such as the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children. Founded in 1857 by Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the New York Infirmary was one of the first places where women physicians could learn, intern and work. However, the ultimate goal was to train and work with the best doctors, male and female, and to that end women fought for the right to study at their schools of choice, and work in the best hospitals in their respective fields.
When the first women matriculated at University and Bellevue Hospital Medical College, they embarked on a journey of equality and knowledge that continues in spirit to this day. From teachers, researchers, and physicians, to leadership roles at NYU, our award-winning alumna and faculty continue to make great strides at NYU Langone Medical Center and School of Medicine.
In the early 1900’s, women physicians were often viewed as “an obstacle and hazard to hospital staffs.” Even after completing their medical education, women faced few to no options when seeking internships and advanced training at hospitals. When they did manage to land coveted spots, female interns often slept in the nurses’ quarters and were discouraged from socializing with male students.*
May Edward Chinn, MD, (1896 – 1980), Class of 1926, was the first African-American woman to graduate from University and Bellevue Hospital Medical College. After graduation, Dr. Chinn was the first African-American woman to hold an internship at Harlem Hospital and ride with the ambulance crew on emergency calls. However, she faced much prejudice and adversity in the medical profession, since African-American physicians could not gain hospital privileges in New York during this time. Dr. Chinn opened her own family practice in Harlem, and continued her studies independently to provide the best care for her patients. It wasn’t until 1940 that Dr. Chinn was finally granted admitting privileges at Harlem Hospital.
Dr. Chinn spent much of her career at the Strang Cancer Clinic, an affiliate of Memorial Hospital and New York Infirmary, where she helped promote use of the Pap smear test for cervical cancer detection. She was a tireless advocate for access to early cancer screening in low-income communities.
Prior to 1930, women physicians were hired by the Medical College as instructors or lecturers. These women set the stage for the hiring and promotion of female medical faculty at NYU: May A. Sweeton, BS, Instructor, 1916-17; Margaret Morris Hoskins, PhD, Lecturer in Anatomy, 1917-18; May Catherine Schroeder, MD, Instructor in Hygiene, 1919-20; and Sara Josephine Baker, MD, Lecturer, 1920-21.
The first female medical faculty member at the University and Bellevue Hospital Medical College of NYU was Lucy Dubois Porter Sutton, MD, (1891-1938). Dr. Sutton began her career at NYU as associate visiting physician to the Children’s Medical Service at Bellevue Hospital in 1930. She served as director of the Children’s Cardiology Service until her untimely death in 1938. Dr. Sutton was elected a Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine in 1927.
Women continued to make professional inroads at NYU. By 1931, the Medical College had three additional female faculty members: Muriel Iveney, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Neurology; Josephine Hemenway Kenyon, MD, Pediatrics; and Edith Lincoln, MD, Pediatrics.
Edith Helen Maas Lincoln, MD, (1899-1971) pioneered the use of drugs for treating tuberculosis in children as head of the Children's Chest Clinic at Bellevue Hospital from 1922 until her retirement in 1956. In 1963, she co-wrote Tuberculosis in Children, a seminal book on the topic at the time of its publishing, with Edward M. Sewell.
Dr. Lincoln came to Bellevue Hospital as the first female intern in 1917, and later became one of the first female faculty members at the New York University School of Medicine in 1930. Her work in pediatric tuberculosis and effective drug treatment led to great declines in infant mortality from the disease. Twenty years later, Dr. Lincoln was named a clinical professor of pediatrics. Her drive and dedication proved that women physicians were intellectual equals, and if given the opportunity, could make significant contributions to the field of medicine.
The department of pediatrics at NYU has a rich history of talented women physicians. Some big names in pediatrics at NYU include:
Janet Sterling Baldwin, MD, (1908-1958) one of the first directors of the Children's Cardiology Service, who introduced pediatric cardiac catheterization to the New York region.
Rosa Lee Nemir, MD, (1905-1992), was director of the Bellevue Children's Chest Clinic. As one of the first women to become a full professor of pediatrics in the country, Dr. Nemir spent her career at NYU and Bellevue, working to discover effective drug treatments for tuberculosis in children.
Ruth Bakwin, MD, (1898-1985), established the first behavior clinic for children conducted by pediatricians. Along with her husband, Dr. Harry Bakwin, she authored a well-regarded text, Clinical Management of Behavior Disorders in Children.
Eugenie Doyle, MD, Professor Emerita of Pediatric Cardiology. Served as director of pediatric cardiology for over forty years. Her contributions include enormous advances in the medical and post-surgical care of young patients.
Lauretta Bender, MD, (1897-1987) is perhaps best known for developing the Bender-Gestalt Visual Motor Test. A neuropsychological examination that became a worldwide standard, the psychological test examines perceptual motor skills and motor developments to aid in screening for developmental disorders, and assess neurological function. The test’s name is partly derived from the use of images from the world-renown Gestalt psychologist Max Wertheimer (1923). Dr. Bender, in her 1938 monograph A Visual Motor Gestalt Test and Its Clinical Use, described how the test was administered and the methodology behind it.
Dr. Bender was senior psychiatrist in the Children’s Psychiatric Service from 1933 to 1956. Some accomplishments during her tenure include the introduction of play therapy groups for children, the development of the first Autistic Nursery, and contributing to advances in research in the areas of child schizophrenia and psychopharmacology.
Stella Chess, MD, (1914-2007), Class of 1939, was a clinician and researcher who, along with her husband and research partner, Dr. Alexander Thomas, initiated the New York Longitudinal Study in 1956. This study carefully observed the behavior of 133 children from infancy and childhood, seeking to understand how personality is formed. Dr. Chess and her colleagues identified nine distinct traits that came to be known as the "temperament of the child," and challenged the notion that psychiatric disorders were the product of bad parenting. Her research led to the authoring of several books on the topic of children’s personality development, including Know Your Child, published in 1987.
Dr. Chess came to the NYU School of Medicine in 1966 as associate professor of child psychiatry. In 1970, she became the first appointed professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Medical Center.
Women clinicians and researchers continue to make great strides at NYU Langone Medical Center, striving to understand the causes of disease and searching for effective treatments and cures, from vaccinations to cellular therapy.
One such leader is Ruth S. Nussenzweig, MD, the C.V. Starr Professor of Medical and Molecular Parasitology. In 1967, Dr. Nussenzweig observed that the malaria parasite could be inactivated at the stage in its life cycle before it enters the human liver by irradiating it. She showed that irradiated parasites were capable of inducing protective immunity.
Along with her husband and collaborator Victor Nussenzweig, MD, Dr. Nussenzweig has dedicated her life’s work to the development of vaccines against malaria. She has received countless awards in recognition of her substantial achievements in malaria research and parasitology. In 2009, Dr. Nussenzweig was recognized as Master Researcher during Dean’s Honor Day at NYU.
Outstanding contemporary physicians and researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center include notable Berson Alumni Achievement Award recipients.
This year, Nina Bhardwaj, MD, PhD, Class of 1981, received the 2012 Solomon A. Berson Alumni Achievement Award in Basic Science. Dr. Bhardwaj is professor of medicine, pathology, and dermatology, director of the NYU tumor vaccine program, and scientific director of the NYU vaccine and cell therapy core facility.
Some recent Berson Award recipients include:
2009: Ann Marie Schmidt, M.D., Iven Young Professor of Endocrinology, NYU. Class of 1983.
2007: Donna B. O'Hare, M.D., Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, NYU. Class of 1958.
2004: Anne Klibanski, M.D., Director, Neuroendocrine and Pituitary Tumor Clinical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital. Class of 1975.