From the midwives of ancient times to recent Nobel Prize winners, women have always had a role in the advancement of medicine. These women, including many with Yale connections, are just a few of those who have made significant contributions to medicine.

Ancient Greece

Metrodora writes On the Diseases and Cures of Women
Metrodora (c. 200–400 CE), a female Greek physician, wrote the oldest medical text known to have been penned by a woman. Among many other innovations, she pioneered surgical treatments for breast and uterine cancers.

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12th Century

The first woman gynecologist
Although an early collection of treatises called the Trotula was mistakenly attributed for centuries to a woman by that name, medieval Europe did produce a learned woman considered an expert in medical diagnosis and treatment: Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179), a German Benedictine abbess who wrote two volumes on medicine titled Causae et Curae.

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16th Century

The birth of nurse-midwifery
Louyse Bourgeois (1563–1636) paved the way for the modern profession of nurse–midwifery as royal midwife to King Henry IV of France and his wife Marie de Médicis. She delivered the babies of the French aristocracy and made important contributions to obstetrics through her writings.

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1820

Florence Nightingale is born
Nightingale (1820–1910) fundamentally changed the role of nursing in hospitals and introduced standards of hygiene that reduced hospital infections. She played a key role in advancing new professional training standards. In 1860, she started the first scientifically based nursing school at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London.

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1849

First woman graduates from an American medical school
Elizabeth Blackwell (1821–1910) was the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. In 1857, with her sister, Emily Blackwell, MD; and Marie Zakrzewska, MD, she opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. She also published Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women in 1895.

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1863

First woman surgeon employed by the U.S. Army
Mary Edwards Walker (1832–1919) is thought to have been the first U.S. woman surgeon and was also the first woman surgeon in the U.S. Army. For her contributions to the Army during the Civil War, during which she was captured and imprisoned, she was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1865.

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1864

First black woman graduates from medical school
Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831–1895) was the first black woman to earn an MD degree in the United States and one of the first black physicians to publish a medical text. Crumpler wrote A Book of Medical Discourses: In Two Parts in 1883. After the Civil War, she cared for freed slaves.

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1889

First Native American woman receives medical degree
Susan La Flesche Picotte (1865–1915), was the first Native American woman to become a doctor, 35 years before Native Americans were recognized as U.S. citizens. She oversaw the medical care on her Omaha reservation, which covered some 1,350 square miles.

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1908

Sara Josephine Baker reduces NYC’s infant mortality rate
As a physician, Baker (1873–1945) made remarkable contributions to public health, including drastically reducing maternal and child mortality rates in New York City’s immigrant communities in the early 1900’s. She also tracked down Mary Mallon, aka Typhoid Mary—twice.

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1908

Mary Engle Pennington named first woman lab chief of FDA
Pennington (1872–1952), a renowned bacteriologist, was hired to implement the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act. A former research fellow at Yale, she spent more than 40 years educating the government and the general public in the techniques and importance of proper handling of perishable food.

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1916

First women admitted to the Yale School of Medicine
Louise Farnam (–1949), Helen May Scoville, and Lillian Lydia Nye, were the first women students. Although Nye transferred to Johns Hopkins, Farnam and Scoville both graduated from Yale in 1920. Farnam went on to work at the Hunan-Yale Hospital and College of Medicine in China.

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1937

Florence Seibert lays the groundwork for the first tuberculosis test
After earning her PhD in biochemistry from Yale in 1923, Seibert (1897–1991) isolated the tuberculosis protein molecule, which led to the development of the first reliable tuberculosis test. She also pioneered safe intravenous therapy.

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1947

First U.S. woman earns Nobel prize in physiology or medicine
Gerty Cori (1896–1957), who received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Yale in 1951, was the first woman in the United States to receive a Nobel Prize. It was awarded to her, along with her husband Carl, and Bernardo Houssay, for their discovery of how glycogen is metabolized in the body.

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1948

First African-American woman graduates from Yale School of Medicine
Beatrix McCleary Hamburg (1923–2018) was the first African-American woman to graduate from YSM. After training in pediatrics and psychiatry, she focused her research and clinical practice on behavioral and developmental issues among adolescents. She also worked at the National Institute of Mental Health.

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1952

Virginia Apgar develops scoring system for newborns
Apgar (1909–1974) developed the famous system, that bears her name and is still used to quickly assess a newborn’s health, identifying babies in need of special treatment. The Apgar score has been credited with changing the course of neonatology and saving the lives of innumerable babies.

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1961

First woman appointed as professor at Yale School of Medicine
Among her accomplishments, Dorothy M. Horstmann (1911–2001) discovered that the poliovirus reached the brain by way of blood, a finding that contributed to the development of an effective vaccine. In 1969, she became the first woman at Yale to receive an endowed chair.

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1965

First woman president of the American Heart Association
A pioneer in pediatric cardiology, Helen Brooke Taussig (1898–1986) helped create the Blalock-Taussig-Thomas shunt in 1944 to improve survival in children with congenital heart defects. The procedure she and her colleagues developed, called the “blue baby operation,” opened the door to today’s coronary bypass operations.

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1971

Florence Wald founds first American hospice unit
Wald (1916–2008), a former dean of the Yale School of Nursing, is considered the founder of the Hospice movement in the United States, for which she was awarded the honorary doctorate of medical sciences by Yale in 1995.

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1972

Phyllis T. Bodel named first director of Yale’s Office for Women in Medicine
Bodel (1934–1978), an infectious disease investigator, also researched the experience of women in medicine. Her work challenged the thinking that women are less likely to have successful medical careers and led to changes in tenure rules allowing women greater flexibility to balance work and life.

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1979

Joan A. Steitz discovers snRNPs and their role in gene splicing
A professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale, Steitz (1941–) was the first woman graduate student in the lab of James Watson, one of the co-discoverers of the structure of DNA, before she began her own pioneering work in RNA.

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1984

First woman named head of a department at Yale School of Medicine
Carolyn W. Slayman (1937–2016), an accomplished geneticist and beloved mentor, chaired the Department of Human Genetics (now Genetics). In 1995, she became the first woman to hold a deputy deanship, for academic and scientific affairs.

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1990

First woman and first Hispanic to be U.S. Surgeon General
Antonia Novello (1944–), a native of Puerto Rico, specialized in several disciplines, including nephrology, pediatrics, and public health, and held top posts at the former National Institute of Arthritis, Metabolism, and Digestive Disorders and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

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1995

Christiane Nusslein-Volhard wins the Nobel prize for research on the genetic control of embryonic development
Nusslein-Volhard (1942–), who received an honorary doctor of science degree from Yale in 1990, shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Eric Wieschaus and Edward B. Lewis for research elucidating the earliest stages of embryonic growth.

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2009

Elizabeth Blackburn Wins the Nobel Prize for the Discovery of Telomerase
Blackburn (1948–), a postdoctoral fellow at Yale between 1975-1977, received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak for delineating how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and discovering the enzyme telomerase, which has led to groundbreaking cancer therapies.