Online Exhibits@Yale

Women on the Yale Medical Faculty and Staff in the 1920s and 1930s

Departments were formalized at Yale University in 1919. Previously there had been individual professors of various subjects. As the medical school became responsible for more laboratory and clinical instruction, informal departments had already existed in medicine. About the same time as official departments were created, women began to enter the medical faculty. However, they remained for decades at a low rank, dependent on support by mentors and money that their mentors received from foundations. They rarely reached even the level of assistant professor. Faculty wives with M.D.s or Ph.D.s could find work at the Medical School, but typically in a dependent position and at a low rate of pay.

Some departments were more welcoming to women than others. Pediatrics was an especially good field for women physicians, whether in the Department of Pediatrics under Edwards A. Park and Grover Powers or in the Clinic of Child Development under Arnold Gesell.  Some of the women faculty in the 1920s and 1930s went on to illustrious careers, though usually outside academia.

Yale School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics

Department of Pediatrics, 1921

With funds from the Rockefeller Foundation, Yale was able to set up some departments on a “full-time” basis, which meant that the professors would be paid salaries by Yale rather than earning their income from patient fees. One of these new full-time departments was Pediatrics headed by Edwards A. Park, brought to Yale from Johns Hopkins. Park brought with him Grover Powers, Martha Eliot, and Ethel Dunham, all of whom had worked with him at Johns Hopkins. Women were not going to be asked by the Dean to found or head departments, but they could enter the faculty under the patronage of a faculty member. In 1927, Park returned to Johns Hopkins as chairman of pediatrics and Grover Powers became Chairman of Pediatrics. Both men were excellent mentors to women. In this photograph, Martha Eliot is first person in the first row. She is followed by Ethel Dunham, Grover Powers, and Edwards Park. 

Grover Powers

Grover F. Powers as mentor of women

Grover Francis Powers came to Yale in 1921 from Johns Hopkins along with Edwards A. Park.  Though he began as an assistant professor, he became full professor and chairman of the department in 1927 when Park left to chair pediatrics at Johns Hopkins. There were always women members of the Department of Pediatrics. Grover Powers who believed strongly in the public and social aspects of pediatrics was appreciated as a fine mentor to women. Powers had a special relationship with the U.S. Children’s Bureau which provided funds for studies on improving the health of New Haven children with the understanding that the studies would be undertaken by specific women physicians in the department. The four major women mentored by Powers, all M.D.’s from  Johns Hopkins, were Ethel Dunham, Martha May Eliot, Edith Jackson, and Ruth Whittemore, all unmarried, though Dunham and Eliot were lifelong partners. Jackson and Whittemore are highlighted in a later section of this exhibit.

Ethel Dunham

Ethel Collins Dunham (1883-1969), Pediatrics

Ethel C. Dunham was known for her significant contributions to neonatology, especially to the care of premature infants. Dunham arrived at Yale in 1919 as the first woman house officer at New Haven Hospital.  Edwards Park invited her to join Yale’s newly formed Department of Pediatrics in 1921.  Dunham was placed in charge of the pediatrics outpatient clinic at the Yale Dispensary as well as the of nursery for newborn infants. With support from the U.S. Children’s Bureau, she carried out a large study of morbidity and mortality of infants at New Haven Hospital and found that prematurity was the most important cause of neonatal death. Her rank at Yale rose to associate professor and then associate clinical professor.  In 1935, she and her life-long partner, Martha M. Eliot left Yale for full-time positions at the Children’s Bureau in Washington, D.C., but kept their formal ties with Yale as lecturers in clinical pediatrics. They returned annually to participate in instruction until 1950. At the Children’s Bureau, Dunham headed research in child development where she worked on standards for care of newborn infants in the hospital. At the time most hospitals did not have special procedures for the care of premature infants.  Her research was summarized in her book Premature Infants: A Manual for Physicians (1948).   In 1957, she became the first woman to receive the American Pediatric Society’s highest award, the Howland Medal.

Martha May Eliot

Martha May Eliot (1891-1978), Department of Pediatrics

Martha Eliot came to Yale in 1921 from Johns Hopkins when her mentor, Edwards A. Park, formerly at Johns Hopkins, established Yale’s first Department of Pediatrics. She initially served as chief resident and later took the lead in a project with Park to design and carry out a community demonstration in New Haven of the effect of cod-liver oil and sunlight in the prevention of rickets, a study funded by the. U. S. Children’s Bureau. Her carefully organized team project paved the way for the elimination of rickets as a serious problem in children and helped set requirements for Vitamin D. With Dr. Edith Jackson, she also carried out a study of rickets in Puerto Rio.  From 1927 to 1935 Eliot combined work at Yale with consulting for the Children’s Bureau. Her rank rose to associate clinical professor. In 1935, she left New Haven with life partner Ethel Dunham to become assistant chief of the Children’s Bureau but retained her formal tie to Yale as a visiting lecturer in clinical pediatrics until 1950.  She served as Chief of the Children’s Bureau from 1951 to 1956.  As an administrator in the federal government, she took part in the establishment of policies for the care of children from the Social Security Act of 1935 to the early postwar period.  Eliot was the first woman president of the American Public Health Association in 1947 and was awarded the Howland medal of the American Pediatric Society in 1967.  The American Public Health Association established the Martha May Eliot award in her honor in 1964. 

Arnold Gesell

Arnold Gesell as a mentor of women

Arnold Gesell, M.D., Director of the Clinic of Child Development from 1911 to 1948, came to Yale in 1911 with a Ph.D. in psychology and experience as an educator. He was invited to join the faculty of a new education department at Yale. At the same time, he attended of Yale School of Medicine and ran a psycho-clinic in the Yale Dispensary. He became a full professor in the medical school in 1915, the year of his medical school graduation. Though primarily interested in abnormal children and education in the 1920s, Gesell became best known for his later work on developing schedules of normal development for children from birth on. He and his team studied detailed stages of normal development of children by analyzing frames of film taken of children placed inside an experimental dome, which enabled the children to be viewed from outside. Gesell’s view of child development emphasized biology, rather than behaviorism, or psychoanalysis.  Gesell’s team was funded by the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Foundation and other private foundations. Most of his long-term collaborators were women M.D.s and Ph.D.s. The collaborators analyzed the films and co-authored Gesell’s many books. Among them were Catherine Strunk Amatruda, M.D., Frances Ilg, M.D., Helen Thompson, Ph.D., and Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D,  When Gesell retired in 1948, Yale closed the Clinic of Child Development, and brought in Milton J.E. Senn, trained in psychiatry, to form the Child Study Center.  Three of the women formed the Gesell Institute in New Haven in 1948 to carry on Gesell’s work.

Book title page - Gesell

One of many books by Arnold Gesell co-authored with women faculty

Women working with Gesell felt that they were a part of a large team. Their ideas and their individual areas of expertise were respected. Gesell did not analyze frames of film himself but left that to his associates. They carried out their own research in addition to publishing the many books and films that came out of the Clinic of Child Development.

Gesell, Arnold, Helen Thompson, and Catherine Strunk Amatruda. Infant Behavior ; Its Genesis and Growth. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1934).

Louise Bates Ames

Louise Bates Ames (1908-1996), Yale Clinic of Child Development

Louise Bates Ames, possibly the best known of the women who worked with Arnold Gesell, came to Yale as a Ph.D, student of Gesell in 1933 and stayed on until 1950, two years past Gesell’s retirement. Her thesis was on the sequence of prone progression in the human infant. She collaborated on such works as The First Five Years of Life (1940) and Infant and Child in the Culture of Today (1943), and also published research articles on her own.  She, like Gesell, believed that stages of motor and cognitive development were predictable. She was particularly interested in tests for “developmental diagnosis” and age-related responses to Rorschach tests. Her rank never rose above Research Assistant, though she also held the title Curator of Films of Child Development.  In 1948, Ames, pediatrician Frances Ilg, and Janet Learned Rodell, founded the private Gesell Institute for Human Development in New Haven. Bates and Ilg, in addition to ongoing research, published books on child development for a general audience and wrote a syndicated newspaper column, called “Child Development,” and later, “Parents Ask,” from 1951 to 1996.

Gertrude Van Wagenen

Gertrude Van Wagenen (1893-1978), Department Obstetrics and Gynecology

Gertrude Van Wagenen, a pioneer in reproductive endocrinology, earned a Ph.D. in zoology and then worked with Berkeley anatomist and endocrinologist, Herbert McLean Evans. Independently wealthy and living in New York, she approached the Yale Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, then under Arthur H. Morse, in 1930, and asked if she could continue her research at Yale without pay.  In 1935 she established with her own funds a colony of monkeys at Yale. For over forty years, she maintained the colony and carried out innovative basic research on the development of the reproductive organs and the role of the sex hormones in ovulation, fertilization, sex differentiation, and fetal development.  In the 1960s she collaborated with John McLean Morris of Yale on testing the first successful “morning-after pill,” initially in macaque monkeys in her colony and then in volunteer rape victims at Yale New-Haven Hospital.  Van Wagenen was a prolific author of over 120 papers, collaborating with a wide variety of leading researchers.  In addition, she authored two books with Dr. Miriam Simpson, another disciple of Evans: Embryology of the ovary and testis: Homo sapiens and Macaca mulattamo sapiens and Macaca mulatta (1965) and Postnatal development of the ovary in Homo sapiens and Macaca mulatta, and induction of ovulation in the macaque (1973).  Her final rank on the Yale faculty was Lecturer, Obstetrics and Gynecology, held from 1961 until her death in 1978.

Margaret Kennard

Margaret Alice Kennard (1899-1975), Department of Physiology

Margaret Kennard is known as a pioneer in the early years of developmental neuropsychology. With a recent M.D. from Cornell (1930) and a year of internship, Kennard first came to the Department of Physiology as an Honorary Research Fellow in 1931-1932 and stayed on until 1943, but only reaching the rank of Assistant Professor.  She worked in the laboratory of John F. Fulton, chairman of the department, using primates as subjects both from Fulton laboratory and from that of Gertrude Van Wagenen. Her experiments, complementing those of Fulton and his colleagues, were on behavioral responses to lesions in the cortex or sub-cortex of infant, juvenile, and adult primates.  She examined which functions (such as limb movement, posture, grasping, and recall of learning) were hampered by lesions at different ages, and which functions were spared. She was especially interested in the neural mechanisms by which the brain partially compensated after lesions, and how her work could apply to brain-damaged pediatric patients.  In 1942, Kennard passed the specialty boards in Psychiatry and Neurology and, after leaving Yale held a succession of clinical positions. She served as president of the Society for Biological Psychiatry in 1956-1957.  A conclusion she reached at Yale concerning brain plasticity in infants in particular cases was over-simplified in 1970s to become widely known as the “Kennard Principle.”

Louise Eisenhardt portrait

Louise Eisenhardt (1891-1967), Department of Pathology

Louise Eisenhardt is the only woman faculty member represented by an oil painting at the Yale School of Medicine. It was painted by Yale portraitist Deane Keller in 1961.  She came to Yale in 1934, following neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing who arrived at Yale in late 1933 as Sterling Professor of Neurology.  Eisenhardt was initially hired by Cushing at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Boston, to serve as an editorial assistant. She became so interested in Cushing’s research on intracranial tumors, that she obtained a medical degree from Tufts in 1925. Shortly after her internship at Boston Hospital for Women and Children, she assumed the role of neuropathologist for Cushing.  Eisenhardt became an international authority on intracranial tumors, maintaining a scientific record of Cushing’s operative cases and all of the tumors he removed.  Eisenhardt brought Cushing’s records and the future Brain Tumor Registry with her to Yale.  As a member of the Department of Pathology, she co-authored with Cushing, Meningiomas, their classification, regional behavior, life history and surgical end results (1938). After Cushing’s death, she remained at Yale as Curator of the Brain Tumor Registry from 1944 to 1960. She organized the Brain Tumor Registry and trained generations of students. In 1932 she had helped to found the Harvey Cushing Society (now the Society of Neurological Surgeons) and later served a term as president. With financial backing of John F. Fulton, the Society founded the Journal of Neurosurgery in 1943 with Eisenhardt as its first editor.  Despite a distinguished career, her faculty rank at Yale remained Research Associate.

Women on the Yale Medical Faculty and Staff in the 1920s and 1930s