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5 Pioneering Women In Medicine

With International Women’s Day coming up on Thursday 8th March, we’ve decided to put the spotlight on the past accomplishments of five pioneering women in the medical profession.  

Rebecca Lee Crumpler (8 February 1831 – 9 March 1895)

Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first African American woman to become a registered physician in the United States. She became a doctor of medicine in 1864 and went on to practice in Boston, primarily taking care of underprivileged women and children.

When the American Civil War ended in 1865, she moved to Richmond in Virginia, where her focus remained on women and children, although she also provided medical care for freed slaves by working with the Freedmen’s Bureau. Her work was carried out under severe racism and sexism but rather than deterring her this only spurred her on.  

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (9 June 1836 – 17 December 1917)

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was the first formally qualified and recognised female doctor in Britain. She was so determined to study medicine that she learnt French so she could become a medical student at the University of Sorbonne in Paris.

She was the first woman to be appointed to a medical position when she became one of the visiting doctors at the East London Hospital for Children. She co-founded the New Hospital for Women, which was the first hospital to be staffed by women, and she also created the London School of Medicine for Women. Garrett Anderson then became dean of her medical school, making her the first female dean of such an establishment in Britain.

Garrett Anderson was an active participant in the women’s suffrage movement. She also went on to be the first female mayor and magistrate in Britain.

Dame Louisa Aldrich-Blake (5 August 1865 – 28 December 1925)

Louisa Aldrich-Blake graduated from the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine for Women in 1893. After this, she studied for higher degrees in Medicine and Surgery from the University of London and then became the first British woman to acquire the Master of Surgery degree.

Besides working as an anaesthetist at the Royal Free Hospital, she was the first woman to hold the position of surgical registrar. She also worked with the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson hospital and became the senior surgeon there in 1910.

Jane Elizabeth Hodgson (23 January 1915 – 23 October 2006)

Jane Elizabeth Hodgson was a pioneer in the field of reproductive healthcare for women. She opened a clinic in St Paul, Minnesota and co-founded the Duluth Women’s Health Centre.

Hodgson became an advocate for women’s rights throughout her career too. Whilst she was brought up to believe that abortion is immoral, over time she came to the decision that women should have the choice, and went on to challenge laws that restricted women’s access to abortion.

Margaret Allen (born in 1948)

Margaret Allen is a cardiothoracic surgeon in America. When she was in medical school, she worked in the lab of a vascular surgeon who was experimenting with implanting hearts into cows. This was her first exposure to heart surgery, and in 1985 she became the first woman to perform a heart transplant operation in the USA.

Allen went on to be named “Woman of the Year” by the International Women’s Forum in 1990. She was also given the accolade of being one of the “Best Doctors in America” for five years from 1992.