Ever since it was made official by Congress in 1987, March has been designated as Women’s History Month. It’s a month that not only provides an opportunity to celebrate the many groundbreaking contributions women have made to our society throughout history, but to recognize those who continue working to shape this world for the better.
With so many women behind the Everlywell products you know and love, this Women’s History Month we’re taking a look back and celebrating some of the trailblazing women in healthcare and medicine who laid the foundation for the advancements we see today. While women continue to work toward equal opportunity and to take up space in the field of medicine, the progress that’s been made — like the fact that in 2019, women made up the majority of U.S. medical school students for the first time ever — wouldn’t be possible without the impact of the women we are honoring below.
From some of the first female physicians in the 1800s to leaders still with us today, here are 10 women who helped pave the way for women in healthcare, and in doing so, created a better today for us all:
Elizabeth Blackwell refused a professor’s suggestion that she disguise herself as a male to gain admission after being turned away by more than 10 medical schools. Blackwell ultimately attended Geneva Medical College in New York and became the first woman in the United States to be granted an MD degree.
She went on to support medical education for women and established the New York Infirmary in 1857, as a solution for women who were rejected from internships elsewhere but determined to expand their skills as physicians.
In 1864, following years of working as a nurse seeking “every opportunity to relieve the suffering of others,” Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first Black woman in the United States to receive an MD degree. When she completed her education in 1864, she became the only black graduate in the school’s history.
Jacobi received her MD degree from the Female (later Woman’s) Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1864 and then went on to study at l’École de Médecine in Paris, making her the first woman to do so.
She advocated for coeducation for medical students, noting that existing women’s medical schools could not provide the same clinical experience as major hospitals and in 1872, she created the Association for the Advancement of the Medical Education of Women to address inequities. She also worked to debunk myths about menstruation.
Susan LaFlesche Picotte witnessed a dying Native American woman die because a white doctor refused to care for her. Years later, she would go on to be the first Native American woman in the United States to earn a medical degree.
Picotte graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania at the top of her class in 1889 and then returned home to serve a population of more than 1,300. She also pursued political reforms, leading a delegation to Washington in 1906 to lobby for prohibiting alcohol on the reservation.
In 1947 Gerty Cori, MD became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for discovering how sugar-derived glycogen is used by the body as an energy source, which helped lead to treatments for diabetes and other diseases.
The 10-point Apgar score devised by Virginia Apgar in 1953 is considered the gold standard for determining the health of a newborn. The New York World Telegram and Sun once wrote that, “Her name is a lifeline for newborns,” and Surgeon General Julius Richmond said she had, “done more to improve the health of mothers, babies, and unborn infants than anyone else in the 20th century.” She was also the first woman to head an academic department and hold a full professorship at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Through efforts to abolish the practice of enforced sterilization and provide neonatal care to underserved communities, Helen Rodriguez-Trias spent her career expanding the range of public health services for women and children in minority and low-income populations in the United States and around the world. She served as the first Latina director of the American Public Health Association and in 2001, she received the Presidential Citizens Medal for her work on behalf of women, children, and people with HIV and AIDS.
Patricia Goldman-Rakic earned her PhD from UCLA in 1963 and later, was the first to discover and describe the circuitry of the prefrontal cortex and its relationship to working memory. At the time, the prefrontal cortex was considered too complex to research in detail, yet she mapped the region and shed light on such crucial functions as cognition, planning, and working memory. Today, conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, and more are all founded on her groundbreaking research.
Dr. Evans developed the Evans Staging System for neuroblastoma, the most common of the solid childhood cancers, and is known as a pioneer in the clinical study and treatment of childhood cancers. In her pursuit of creating a "home-away-from-home" for families of young cancer patients undergoing treatment, she created the original Ronald McDonald House in 1974.
Growing up in a large family in a poor part of Arkansas, Joycelyn Elders did not see a doctor until she was 16 years old, but when she did — she knew she wanted to be one. She went on to become the first person in the state of Arkansas to become board certified in pediatric endocrinology and decades later, would become the first African American surgeon general of the United States and the second woman to ever hold that position.
She is famously quoted as saying, “Health is more than absence of disease; it is about economics, education, environment, empowerment, and community.”
1. More women than men are enrolled in medical school. AAMC. URL. Accessed February 18, 2022.
2. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell. Changing the Face of Medicine. URL. Accessed February 18, 2022.
3. Celebrating 10 women medical pioneers. AAMC. URL. Accessed February 18, 2022.
4. Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi. Changing the Face of Medicine. URL. Accessed February 18, 2022.
5. Ancestors of Science: Susan LaFlesche Picotte. Science.org. URL. Accessed February 18, 2022.
6. Virginia Apgar. Columbia. URL. Accessed February 18, 2022.
7. Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias. Changing the Face of Medicine. URL. Accessed February 18, 2022.
8. Patricia S. Goldman-Rakic. National Academy of Sciences. URL. Accessed February 18, 2022.
9. Dr. Audrey Evans. Changing the Face of Medicine. URL. Accessed February 18, 2022.
10. Dr. Joycelyn Elders. Changing the Face of Medicine. URL. Accessed February 18, 2022.