Women in Medicine

Women's History Month: CUMC Women Who Made Health Care History


As part of Women's History Month, we salute Columbia University Medical Center women faculty and graduates who have been recognized for their historic roles in health care. These physicians, nurses, dentists, researchers, and public health leaders call attention to the various roles women have played in improving health care and strengthening the education and training of health professionals.

The women listed here are just a few of the many Columbia women who have contributed to health care advances throughout history.

Current and Former Faculty


Hattie Elizabeth Alexander, MD, pediatrician and microbiologist who developed an anti-influenza serum that reduced the mortality rate for fatal meningitis in infants and children to 20 percent Dorothy Andersen, MD, physician who identified cystic fibrosis and helped create a test to diagnose it Virginia Apgar, MD, developer of Apgar score to assess newborns Suzanne Bakken, PhD, RN, FAAN, FACMI, Alumni Professor of the School of Nursing, professor of biomedical informatics, and a pioneer in nursing informatics who now has international renown Barbara Barlow, MD, leader in injury prevention and first woman to receive a CDC Foundation Hero Award Mary Bassett MD, New York City health commissioner and Mailman School of Public Health faculty member Patricia Bath, MD, resident at Harlem Hospital and Columbia fellow who persuaded Columbia professors to operate on blind patients at Harlem Hospital Center—which had not previously offered eye surgery—at no cost, leading to the first major eye operation at Harlem Hospital in 1970 Bobbie Berkowitz, PhD, RN, FAAN,  dean of Columbia Nursing and a distinguished leader in nursing and public health whose research focuses on health policy and public health system reform Rita Charon, MD, pioneer in narrative medicine Wendy Chavkin, MD, co-founder of Global Doctors for Choice who has written extensively about women's reproductive health issues Eliza Lo Chin, MD, leader in women's issues in medicine Catherine DeAngelis, MD, first woman editor of JAMA Jennifer Dohrn, DNP, CNM, Nursing, director of global initiatives, Columbia Nursing, and leader of the Columbia Nursing WHO Collaborative Health Center for Advanced Practice Nursing Wafaa El-Sadr, MD, founder and director of ICAP, which has provided HIV treatment and services to more than 1 million people in Africa and Asia M. Irene Ferrer, MD, first woman chief resident at Bellevue Hospital, a former Columbia affiliate Virginia Kneeland Frantz, MD, first woman appointed a surgical intern at Presbyterian Hospital Lynn Freedman, JD, director of the Mailman School of Public Health's Averting Maternal Death and Disability Program, which works to reduce maternal mortality in more than 50 countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America Linda Fried, MD, geriatrician and epidemiologist who has done foundational work in defining frailty as a medical condition Glenda Garvey, MD, legendary teacher Robin Goland, MD, leader in diabetes care and prevention and founding co-director of Columbia's Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center Margaret Hamburg, MD, former health commissioner for New York City who developed innovative programs for controlling the spread of tuberculosis and AIDS Rejane M. Harvey, MD, leader in cardiology Margaret Heagarty, MD, pediatrician who established a pediatric AIDS unit at Harlem Hospital Center Hilda Hutcherson, MD, leader in building medical school diversity Georgiana Jagiello, MD, physician who performed the first successful in vitro fertilization procedure in New York City Balbina Johnson, member of the team that developed bacitracin Julia Jones, MD, TB specialist and first woman to serve as vice president of the American Thoracic Society Abbie Knowlton, MD, first woman appointed chief resident in medicine at Presbyterian Hospital Elaine Larson, PhD, RN, FAAN, CIC, internationally renowned expert on hand washing and antimicrobial resistance and associate dean for research, Columbia Nursing Marianne Legato, MD, leader in gender-specific medicine Anna C. Maxwell, founder of Columbia Nursing and an organizer of nurses, whose actions led to the establishment of the Army Nurse Corps Therese McGinn, DrPH, a leader in public health work in resource-poor settings globally, with a focus on improving the scope and quality of reproductive health services, especially in countries affected by armed conflict Terry McGovern, JD, director of the Women's Health and Human Rights Advocacy Project and founder and former executive director of the HIV Law Project, who has won landmark cases related to HIV and to women's involvement in clinical trials Rosalie Slaughter Morton, MD, first female faculty member at P&S (1916), who lobbied for equal recognition of male and female physicians in war service Mary O'Neil Mundinger, DrPH, dean emeritus of Columbia Nursing who championed advanced practice nursing, pioneered an expanded role for nurses, and helped create a new clinical doctoral degree for nursing, which has been widely emulated at other universities Zena Stein, MB, BCh, a leader in the struggle against apartheid, a leader in addressing issues of HIV infection in women, and a leading intellectual figure in epidemiology Anne Taylor, MD, leader in faculty mentoring and cardiology research Ileana Vargas-Rodriguez, MD, pediatric endocrinologist who helped establish the pediatric component of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia Nancy Wexler, PhD, leader in Huntington's disease research



Karen Antman'74 MD, oncology pioneer in development of a standardized treatment regimen for sarcoma and mesothelioma Anne Brower'64 MD, first woman to chair a radiology department in the United States Bessie Delany’23 DDS, the second African-American dentist in New York City and subject of a book, Broadway show, and TV movie, "Having Our Say" Susan Fox'84 Nursing, first woman president of White Plains Hospital Agnes Griffin'23 MD, Columbia medical school's first black female graduate Karen Hein'70 MD, founder of the world's first HIV/AIDS program specifically for adolescents Susan Karabin'81, '85 College of Dental Medicine, the first woman in more than 80 years to be elected president of the American Academy of Periodontology Mary Margaret Kemeny'72 MD, the first woman admitted to the surgical specialty at Columbia University after World War II and one of fewer than two dozen women surgical oncologists in the United States Margaret Morgan Lawrence'40 MD, first African-American trainee certified in psychoanalysis at Columbia University's Columbia Psychoanalytic Center and first African-American to complete a residency at the New York State Psychiatric Institute Martha MacGuffie'49 MD, first woman to complete a residency in plastic and reconstructive surgery and the first woman surgeon on the staff of a major suburban hospital Jean Baker Miller'42 MD, author of the 1976 "Towards a New Psychology of Women," a groundbreaking work in the understanding of human relationships, and later founding director of the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at Wellesley College Gulli Lindh Muller'21 MD, member of the first P&S class to include women after she lobbied the dean to admit women Suzanne Oparil'65 MD, former president of the American Heart Association and first woman president of the American Federation of Medical Research Helen M. Ranney'47 MD, first woman in the United States to chair a department of medicine (University of California, San Diego, 1973–86) Velma Scantlebury'81 MD, first African-American female transplant surgeon in the United States Sally Kasparek Severino'70 MD, first woman president of the American College of Psychoanalysts Anneliese Sitarz'54 MD, pioneering pediatric oncologist Eve Slater'71 MD, first woman chief resident in medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital, first woman to reach the rank of senior vice president of Merck Research Laboratories, and former Assistant U.S. Secretary for Health Anna Southam'47 MD, research pioneer in reproductive health, infertility, and sterility who performed some of the earliest clinical evaluations of a rapid immunological pregnancy test Edith Sproul'31 MD, pathologist who was the first to describe the relationship between thrombophlebitis and pancreatic cancer and the first pathologist to describe cell changes associated with the early stages of prostate cancer Lila Wallis'51 MD, founder and first president of the National Council on Women's Health, creator of the first regional conferences on women in medicine (now organized and sponsored by the American Medical Women's Association), and founder of the Office of Women in Medicine at the former New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center Faye Wattleton'67 Nursing, former president of Planned Parenthood of America Mary Ellen Beck Wohl'58 MD, pioneer in the development of the pediatric pulmonary medicine discipline

Other Resources

Elizabeth Wilcox Photographic Collection from the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library's Archives & Special Collections

What Glass Ceiling?—Article from Spring 1991 P&S magazine

Women as Surgeons: Discouraged in the 1930s, Encouraged in the 1990s—Article from Spring 1993 P&S magazine

Tribute to first female medical student, Gulli Lindh Muller