For today’s reflection, we have five of the unsung heroes of medicine who overcame great odds to make their dreams for a better world come true. The world became a better place because of these women.
Harriot Kezia Hunt
Harriot Kezia Hunt was born on November 9, 1805 in Boston, Massachusetts. She was a physician and reformer who had a medical practice with primarily women and children. Because she was female, she was barred from practicing in the hospitals of her day.
Harriot applied twice to attend Harvard Medical School, but was denied because of her gender. (It was not until 1945 that Harvard accepted its first class of women and that was due to the decreased number of male applicants as a result of World War II.) Harriot continued to practice medicine on her own and became widely known. Due to the national publicity of Harvard denying her access, the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania awarded her an honorary degree in 1853.
Harriot continued to focus on women’s health and equal rights for women, especially the right of women to learn and practice medicine as well as other professions. She also advocated for the abolition of slavery. She died in 1875 at age 70.
Nettie Stevens was born on July 7 1861, in Cavendish, Vermont. After graduation from Westford Academy in 1880, she taught high school including courses in physiology, zoology, mathematics, Latin and English. After teaching three terms, she completed a four year course at Westfield Normal School and then received her B.A. in 1899 and Her M.A. in 1900 from Stanford University. She obtained her Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr College in 1903.
On studying insect chromosomes in 1905, Nettie discovered that chromosomes are different depending on the sex. She determined that the sex of an organism was dependent upon the presence or absence of the Y chromosome. Her work provided critical evidence for chromosomal theories of inheritance. She died May 4 1912.
Alice Catherine Evans was born in 1881 in Neath, Pennsylvania. Alice earned a B.S. in bacteriology from Cornell University in 1909 and a M.S. in 1910 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was an American microbiologist who discovered the bacterium, Bacillus abortus, causes undulant fever (brucellosis) in cattle and humans. However, because she was a woman and did not have a Ph.D., her work was not accepted immediately.
She taught that raw milk needed to be pasteurized to protect people. In the 1920s, scientists came up with the same findings as Alice Evans, leading to the pasteurization of milk in 1930. Alice also studied epidemic meningitis and influenza after joining the United States Public Health Service in 1918. Alice Evans died in 1975.
Louise Pearce was born in 1885. Louise was an American pathologistat at the Rockefeller Institute who helped develop an arsenic based drug (tryparsamide) treatment for African Sleeping Sickness (trypanosomiasis). The drug was also applied to treat syphilis. Alice received her A.B. degree in physiology and histology from Stanford University in 1907. She obtained her M.D. degree in 1912 from Johns Hopkins. In 1913 she began her career in research at the Rockefeller Institute where she remained until 1951. She died in 1959.
Gladys Rowena Henry Dick
Gladys Dick was born in 1881 in Pawnee City, Nebraska. She received her B.S. in zoology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1900. In 1907 she graduated from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine as an M.D. In 1911 Gladys contracted Scarlet Fever and, after her recovery, studied Scarlet Fever with her future husband George Dick. In 1923, she and her husband successfully isolated hemolytic streptococcus as the causative agent for scarlet fever, developed the “Dick Test” which determined a person’s susceptibility to the disease, and produced a toxin and antitoxin in 1924 and 1926. In the 1940s and 1950s, Gladys did research on polio. She died in 1963.