As part of a Newcomb Foundation grant, Rachael Kennedy, Danielle Ludwin, and I worked during the month of August on a project documenting the lives of Newcomb graduates who continued on to medical school.
Because the research was biographical in nature, this project provided an excellent experience in using archival collections and primary documents. At the Center, we pored over old issues of The Newcomb Arcade (a literary magazine), Newcomb Alumnae News, Newcomb scrapbooks, and the Newcomb registrar's files (c.1910-1964). We also searched the University Archives for documentation of the history of the December 14, 1914, decision to allow women into Tulane Medical School. At Tulane Medical School, we delved further into information on our women in the Elizabeth Bass Collection and on the medical school curriculum in the University Bulletins. Further, the Tulane Office of Development and Research provided extensive information on the careers of many of our women.
I also found the research topic interesting because of the personal connections it had to my own life. After all, Newcomb is my own college division. And, as a young girl entertaining thoughts of a medical career, I looked to my nurse practitioner grandmother as a role model. The project also satisfied a craving for my passion for reading. Poring over the personal stories and experiences helped my own life decisions. And, the anecdotes from lives spanning nearly a century invited not only amusement but also contemplation.
For many of "our women," the dream of becoming a physician began in similar ways. Many hoped, as Melissa Phillips' (N '69) did, "to make a difference." As "Women's Lib" pioneers, they faced still-considerable adversity with composure and determination. For example, Janina Galler (N '69) remembered a Newcomb experience in which "most of the women were fairly solid in their expectation of meeting a man, getting married, having a family" but which also offered academic courses and a few fellow students with whom she might work.
Challenges arose, too, for those beginning careers later in life. Evalyn Stolaroff Gendel (N '43) started her medical education when the doctors she dealt with [as a medical illustrator] told her "to stop asking dumb questions and go to medical school yourself."
Regardless of how they entered medicine, the struggles were there and they did not end with completion of one's residency. Marion Spencer Fay (N '15) explained familiar difficulties about assigning priorities. On assuming double duties as President and Dean of Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, she commented, "Since I have taken on two titles people ask 'How do you manage to do two jobs?' Well it is obvious to any of us who is put in the position of wearing two hats, that even for a woman who likes hats it is impossible to grow another head." With the many concerns of our women, they could be (mad?) hatters. Consider Evalyn Stolaroff Gendel's list of personal and professional priorities: helping to find solutions to the health care crisis in the U.S.; fighting against prejudice, bigotry, and censorship; preserving the worldwide environment; building bridges between cultures; continuing efforts for equal rights for women in this country everywhere. These women- and indeed all the women we studied-were busy and productive. Other information that we found portray them as also quite human and at the same time, often superhuman. They seemed to ask, what does impossible mean and then to set about to defy the answer.
In this endeavor, they may have been aided by the Newcomb graduates who came before them. After all, Newcomb graduated the first woman president of a medical school in the Americas (Marion Spencer Fay, N 1915, Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania), the first woman to be director of the New Orleans School Board Medical Department (Florence Gilpin, N 1923), the first woman elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Fraternity (Annie Aldea Maher, N 1913), and the first American woman admitted to Britain's Royal Academy of Medicine (Margharita Cotonio Bourne, N 1919). Other Newcomb women held positions in the federal government, in the United Nations, in private practice, and in volunteer jobs near and far. They were keynote speakers and outstanding citizens. Roberta Hafkesbring (N 1918) taught in Seoul, Korea. Evalyn Stolaroff Gendel (N 1943) spoke in Tel Aviv, Israel. Maud Loeber (N 1903), the first Newcomb graduate to complete medical school (Cornell), held some of the more intriguing positions, representative of both her own skills and the time in which she lived. In 1911, the Board of Prisons and Asylums named her inspector of asylums; she founded the Society for Mental Hygiene; and Pope Pius XII awarded her "Pro-Ecclesia" for her humanitarian service in the Catholic Church.
The excellence of these few Newcomb graduates is indicative of each of the other women whose lives we studied. Given even this brief glimpse, we concluded that good reason existed for historian Lynn Gordon's hypothesis that Newcomb College women were more apt to look to university alumnae for role models than to the faculty. Indeed, Rachael, Danielle, and I met these women and embraced them as our own.
WOMEN ENTER TULANE MED SCHOOL
In nineteeth-century Tulane Medical School bulletins, nothing proclaims in writing that medical classes were for men only. In bulletins closer to the turn of the century, the pronoun "he" is used to refer to the student. In bulletins between the 1906 campaigning and the 1914 ruling concerning women in the Medical School, a gradual, inconsistent shift from using "he" to the generic "student" is noted. In the 1915-1916 Tulane Medical School Bulletin (the first one that would have been printed after the December 1914 ruling), this notice is printed immediately under the heading as such:
There are differences between the Medical School sections and other sections of the health professional curriculum bulletins. The Pharmaceutical School takes the effort to point out that women were admitted to their classes on the same terms as men before they were admitted to the Medical School. The Department of Pharmacy admitted women as early as the 1888-89 session. The Department of Dentistry did the same in 1909. The Medical School passed their ruling December 14, 1914.
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