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In the United States, Women’s History Month traces its beginnings back to the first International Women’s Day in 1911. In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8, 1980, as National Women’s History Week.

Since 1988, U.S. presidents have issued annual proclamations designating the month of March as Women’s History Month. If you have received a blood transfusion, radiation therapy, or experienced natural birth, you have benefitted from the many innovations created by women. March is a time to celebrate these pioneers.

Women Who Shaped Medicine

Clara Barton – Nurse
Founder of the American Red Cross. Served as a self-taught nurse in the American Civil War, providing care to wounded soldiers. Worked to formalize nursing education and giving lectures.

Elizabeth Blackwell, MD
The first woman to earn a medical degree in 1849 from New York’s Geneva Medical College. Pioneered medical education for women. She published “Medicine as a Profession for Women.”

Rebecca Lee Crumpler, MD
First black woman to earn a medical degree in 1864. Published “Book of Medical Discourses” in 1883, one of the first medical publications written by a black person.

Marie Curie – Chemist
One of the most well-known scientists of the 20th century. Pioneered research on radioactivity, discovering radium and polonium. Developed mobile radiography units, used in World War l. The portable x-ray machines were known as “little Curies.” Received the Nobel Prize in 1903 and 1911. The first scientist to win two Nobel Prizes.

Nancy Dickey, MD
First female president of the American Medical Association (AMA), serving in 1997–98. Developed the Patient’s Bill of Rights and reshaped America’s medical care. For eleven years she was president of the Texas A&M Health Science Center, the first woman to hold that position.

Ina May Gaskin – Midwife
Responsible for the revival of natural and home births, assisting in more than 1,200 births. Started her own facility, and created the birthing “Gaskin maneuver.” Inducted into the National Woman’s Hall of Fame in 2013.

Patricia Goldman-Rakic – Neuroscientist
One of the most distinguished neuroscientists of her time. The first scientist to fully chart the frontal lobe of the brain. Studied memory cells in the prefrontal cortex. Her findings helped create a way to treat and understand mental illnesses and behaviors associated with schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Henrietta Lacks – Donor
Lacks developed cervical cancer at the age of 30. A scientist at John Hopkins Hospital used cells from her tumor, without telling her, to create the first immortal line of human cells to be used for future medical research. Lacks’ cells played an instrumental role in developing the vaccine for polio and in vitro fertilization.

Barbara McClintock – Scientist
Known as one of the most brilliant medical scientists. Discovered how genes change places within the chromosome. Her work with genetics helped discover physical trait patterns and genetic suppression and recombination.

Florence Nightingale – Nurse
One of the most famous women in nursing. Known as ‘The lady with the lamp.” Organized crews of nurses helping wounded soldiers in the Crimean War. Established a nursing school in London and helped lay the foundation of professional nursing. International Nurses Day is celebrated on her birthday, May 12.

Antonia Novello – MD
First female and Latina surgeon general appointed by President George Bush. During her time in office, she focused on health issues impacting women and children. Recognized for changing the face of medicine.

Margaret Sanger – Nurse
The mastermind behind Enovid, the first FDA approved oral contraceptive. Opened the first birth control clinic in the US. Founded the American Birth Control league in 1929, which became Planned Parenthood of America.

Rosalyn Sussman Yalow – Physicist
Created and developed a technique used to measure the concentration of antigens in the body. This technique made it possible to scan blood donations for infectious diseases like hepatitis. Winner of the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Lydia Villa-Komaroff – Biologist
Third Mexican-American to receive a Ph.D. from MIT. Discovered how to generate insulin from bacterial cells, earning two patents. Advisor for the first brain transplant studies.


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