Online Exhibits@Yale

Women Students Arrive at Yale School of Medicine and the Hospital

Women were allowed to attend the Yale School of Medicine by vote of the Yale Corporation on June 16, 1916. They were not the first women students at Yale, since women had been admitted to the Graduate School since 1892 and to the College of Fine Arts even earlier. Yale was neither early nor late in enrolling women medical students.  Women were admitted to the University of Michigan in 1870, to Tufts at its founding in 1893, and to Cornell in 1899. Most important, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, a model to which Yale aspired, admitted women from its opening in 1893, due to the donation raised a by a women’s campaign and a large contribution by Mary Elizabeth Garrett.  Yale’s decision in 1916 was preceded by University of Pennsylvania in 1914 and followed by Columbia in 1917.  By the time women were admitted to Yale, women physicians were already a familiar presence in Connecticut’s cities. They were practicing regular medicine in Connecticut since 1872 (and homeopathic medicine as early as 1865) and were members of the state medical society since 1879.  Many were graduates of women’s medical colleges, especially Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (later Medical College of Pennsylvania and now Drexel), the only women’s medical college to survive past 1918.  Soon after women became medical students at Yale, women were also accepted as internes and residents at New Haven Hospital.

Yale School of Medicine, Class of 1910

Yale School of Medicine, Graduating Class of 1910

For over a hundred years, the Yale School of Medicine, founded in 1810 and opened in 1813, accepted only male students. In response to the impending Flexner Report’s critique of the medical school, Yale raised its admission requirements to two years of college. The new requirement applied to existing members of the classes of 1910 and 1911, many of whom had to leave the school. This upgrade reduced the number of graduates. By 1916, World War I had begun and expected U.S. participation would further limit the number of qualified students.

Medical School, Yale University

Yale School of Medicine, 150 York Street

When the first women were admitted to the medical school in 1916, the medical school was located at 150 York Street, along with a few laboratories in separate buildings. The school was struggling financially, but change was on the way.  Yale undertook a major fundraising campaign to build the Brady Laboratory on Cedar Street as part of a proposed agreement with the independent New Haven Hospital. Under the agreement, ratified in 1914, the department heads of the hospital would be the same as the department heads of the medical school and the hospital could be used for medical teaching, specifically for clinical clerkships. In the 1920s, the Medical School moved to the newly built Sterling Hall of Medicine at 333 Cedar Street to be closer the hospital.

Yale School of Medicine, Department of Physiological Chemistry

Women in the Graduate School at Yale: Department of Physiological Chemistry, 1909.

Women were first admitted to Ph.D. programs at Yale in 1892. The women in this photograph were graduate students. Professor Lafayette B. Mendel was a noted mentor of women, training a relatively large number of women and encouraging them to take on to important jobs in gender-related fields like nutrition and home economics. In the 1920s when the Sterling Hall of Medicine was built, departments like Physiological Chemistry moved to the medical school. Louise Farnam was completing a Ph.D. in physiological chemistry when she applied to the medical school in 1916.

Henry W. Farnam

Henry W. Farnam, Benefactor of women in medicine at Yale

Henry Farnam was Professor of Economics at Yale, a member of the Prudential Board of New Haven Hospital, and a leading local philanthropist. In 1900, he became Chairman of the Advisory Committee of a settlement house in New Haven (now Farnam Community) and worked closely with a woman physician, Dr. Julia Teele, a graduate of Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Teele was the initial head resident at the settlement land later Secretary of the Advisory Committee. When Farnam’s daughter, Louise, wanted to go to medical school, her father fully supported her. The issue of admitting women was discussed at three meetings by the Board of Permanent Officers of the medical school. One of the issues raised at the second discussion was the need for lavatory facilities for women. Farnam wrote to Yale President Arthur T. Hadley, "Word has reached me informally that the faculty of the Medical School are willing to admit a limited number of women provided they are graduates of a college and provided funds can be raised to put in a suitable lavatory. As the latter condition seems to be considered a serious one, I write to say that… I shall be glad to be responsible for meeting the expenses of suitable lavatory arrangements."  The cost was about $1,000.  The Yale Corporation voted to accept women into the Yale School of Medicine on June 16, 1916.

Admission notice Bulletin 1917

Excerpt from the Yale Bulletin, 1917

The initial statement regarding the admission of women, which appeared in the 1917 Bulletin (the 1916 Bulletin had already been published when the decision was made), stipulated that women should be college graduates. Although most of the men had bachelor’s degrees, a few still had just the required two years of college. Three women were admitted in 1916 to the Class of 1920. One, Lillian Lydia Nye, left Yale and later got her medical degree from Johns Hopkins. The other two, Louise W. Farnam and Helen May Scoville, graduated in 1920 along with 17 men.  For decades, the number of women graduating remained about 5% of the class.

Residents, New Haven Hospital

Resident Staff at New Haven Hospital in all Departments, 1920-1921

After the agreement with the hospital, Yale and the New Haven Hospital began a residency program. Women were admitted as residents beginning in 1919 (Ethel Dunham). This photo shows Louise Farnam (3rd row left), Margaret Tyler, Isabel Mary Wason, and Ethel Dunham. 

Early women graduates

The women profiled in this section represent the four earliest graduates and three celebrated graduates in the 1920s and 1930s. Most women medical graduates married and had children, which often affected their ability to maintain a full-time medical career, although nearly all found other ways to use their medical training. Though several male graduates of the Yale School of Medicine in the 1920s and 1930s eventually became professors at Yale, that was not an option for any of the women.

Louise W. Farnam

Louise Whitman Farnam (1890-1949), Class of 1920

Louise Farnam received her bachelor’s degree from Vassar and a Ph.D. from Yale in physiological chemistry in 1916. She graduated at the top of her medical class of 19 students, winning the coveted Campbell Gold Medal.  Farnum continued her training in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins. While there, she wrote to Dr. Edward Hume, who was organizing a medical school and hospital in China, sponsored by Yale. In 1921, Farnam became the first woman to become a faculty member at Yale, as the hospital was called, in Changsha. After marrying an Englishman, Hugh Brian Wilson, in 1930, Farnam continued part time at Yale for the next three years. The couple then moved to England, where they adopted two children. Farnam gave up her practice, but during World War II, she replaced home service doctors who were called into military service.

Yale School of Medicine, Department of Pathology

Helen May Scoville (1893-1977), Class of 1920

Like Farnam, Helen Scoville came from a prominent New Haven family and graduated from a women’s college (Wellesley). Her father was Minister in charge at Trinity Church on the Green. In 1918, while still a medical student, she became a laboratory assistant in Experimental Medicine, and in 1920 joined the Department of Pathology under Milton Winternitz. From 1922 to 1929 she held the rank of Instructor in Surgery and Pathology. In addition to the regular work of the department, she co-authored an article on carcinoma in the ileum with surgeon William F. Verdi. The Department of Pathology had work for women to do, but it did not further women’s careers. In 1929, Scoville left Yale, and in 1931 she became the pathologist at Mercy Hospital (now Berkshire Medical Center) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Serving as the pathologist in a smaller hospital was a job that was open to women. In this photograph of the Department of Pathology, ca. 1921, Scoville is in the top row center. The other woman in this departmental picture, Isabel Wason, a Johns Hopkins graduate, left Yale in 1922 for a similar position as hospital pathologist.

Yale School of Medicine, Class of 1921

Ella Wakeman Calhoun (1893-1985), Class of 1921

Ella Clay Wakeman, a graduate of Wellesley College in 1916, was the one woman among 16 students graduating in 1921. She later wrote, "I was the only woman in the class of 1921. There was no fuss whatever made about this.” After Yale, she interned in medicine and surgery at Morristown Memorial Hospital in Morristown, New Jersey, and then served as a resident in psychiatry at the Boston Psychopathic Hospital. In 1923, she married Robert Calhoun, who taught at the Yale Divinity School, and the couple had four children. Though she did not open a private practice, which she later regretted, she served as a part-time physician and mental health advisor in her children’s schools. Later, her family moved from New Haven to Bethany, where she served as Health Officer (director of public health) of the town for 23 years. She lived long enough to be interviewed by Dr. Susan Baserga.

Helen Langner

Helen Parthenay Langner (1892-1997), Class of 1922

Helen Langner lived to 105 and was known to generations of Yale medical alumni.  She had marched in a suffrage parade early in the 20th century and promoted the cause of women in medicine in the late 20th century. The daughter of a baker in Milford, Connecticut, Langner graduated from Hunter College and taught high school biology for a few years before applying to medical school. She was one of two women in a class of 23. Like her friend, Ella Wakeman, she commuted from home, and felt supported by her fellow students. Langner did her residency in psychiatry at Wards Island, New York, a state mental hospital. For ten years, she served as director of undergraduate health services at Vassar College, and then set up a private practice in child psychiatry in New York City and held an appointment at Cornell.  In 1970, she returned to Milford where she was a consulting and attending physician at Milford Hospital until the age of 96.  She was made an honorary member of the Class of 1998, the first class to enter with more women than men, and would have gotten a second medical degree. She was awarded an honorary degree from Hunter College in 1992.

Book title page – Sophie Aberle

Book by Sophie Aberle (1896-1996), Class of 1930

Sophie D. Aberle earned her bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D. in anatomy from Stanford University. The Committee for Research on Problems of Sex of the National Research Council awarded her a grant in 1927 to study sexual behavior among the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico. This was the beginning of her life-long interest in Indian affairs. At the urging of Clark Wissler, soon to become a professor of anthropology at Yale, she went to Yale to obtain her M.D.  He arranged funding for her as a research assistant in Department of Anthropology. At Yale, she continued her research on female biology by writing her medical thesis on estrogen, a new area of study. Each summer she returned to the Pueblo lands. Aberle stayed on at Yale as an instructor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology until 1934.  From 1935 to 1944, Aberle served as Superintendent of the new United Pueblos Agency, under the Bureau of Indian Affairs. There she dealt with the administration of health care, agricultural reform, and government relations. In 1940, she married William A. Brophy, a lawyer who had served as U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs from 1942-1948, and attorney for the Pueblo Indians from 1927-1942 and 1948-1962.  They were both strong advocates of Indian rights.  She was chairman of the Commission on the Rights, Liberties, and Responsibilities of the American Indian at the time this influential study of Indian affairs (above) published in 1967. In 1951, she and Nobel Prize winner Gerty Cori, were selected as the two women on the first Board of the National Science Foundation. 

 The Indian: America’s Unfinished Business, ed. William Brophy and Sophie D. Aberle (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967, reprinted 2001).

Book title page, Flanders Dunbar

Helen Flanders Dunbar (1902-1959), Class of 1930

Flanders Dunbar, a psychiatrist, was a founder of the psychosomatic movement in American medicine and an innovator in clinical training for ministers. A graduate of Bryn Mawr College in 1923, she then managed to earn three advanced degrees in seven years: a Ph.D. in philosophy at Columbia University (thesis on Dante) in 1929, a B.D. from Union Theological Seminary in 1927, and her M.D. from Yale School of Medicine in 1930. Dunbar spent her last year of medical school abroad studying psychotherapy.  She sought in her career to integrate religion, medicine, and psychiatry. In 1930 she became director of the new Council for the Clinical Teaching of Theological Students. She taught students of theology how to handle human psychological problems. Her study in the 1930s of 1600 patients admitted to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital with diagnoses of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma, emphasized the importance of emotional factors in disease. Dunbar founded the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, serving as editor from 1938 to 1947, and founded the American Psychosomatic Society in 1942. Over the remainder of her career, she held a number of appointments and had a private practice. Dunbar wrote several books in addition to Mind and Body shown above. Though she married twice and had a daughter, she kept her maiden name by law.

Flanders Dunbar, M.D., Mind and Body: Psychosomatic Medicine. (New York: Random House, 1047).

Leona Baumgartner

Leona Baumgartner (1902-1991), Class of 1934

A leader in national and international public health, Leona Baumgartner obtained her B.A. and M.A. at the University of Kansas in 1923 and 1925.  After a few brief jobs, she was granted a Rockefeller Research Fellowship to study at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Munich.  From there, she went to Yale on a Sterling Fellowship to earn a Ph.D. in immunology and her medical degree in 1934.  She did her internship and residency in pediatrics at New York Hospital.  After a year with the U.S. Public Health Service, in 1937 she joined the New York City Department of Health, where she spent most of her career. As Director of the Bureau of Child Health, she established health clinics, day nurseries, and other services for women and children. During World War II she organized emergency medical programs for wives and children of military personnel.  From 1954 to 1962, she served as the first woman Commissioner of Public Health of New York City. She was known as an innovative and effective administrator.  Among her many health campaigns were the polio vaccine, fluoridation of water, sex education, and anti-smoking.  In 1962, she was asked by President Kennedy to head Office of Technical Co-operation of Research for the Agency for International Development, where she lobbied for the inclusion of family planning and birth control in agency programs.  Baumgartner was elected president of the American Public Health Association (1958-1959) and was awarded the Association’s Sedgwick Medal.  She was also given the Public Welfare award of the National Academy of Sciences. Active in Medical Alumni Association at Yale, she was named Distinguished Alumnus of the Year in 1984. Though she married in 1942, Baumgartner continued her career with little interruption and kept her maiden name throughout.

Yale School of Medicine, Class of 1937

Yale School of Medicine, Class of 1937

According to the Historical Register of Yale University, there were 48 graduates in this class, typical for the period. Six were women, a high for the 1920s and 1930s.

Yale School of Nursing Class of 1926 and Graduates of the Connecticut Training School for Nursing

Annie Goodrich and the Yale School of Nursing, Class of 1926

With the opening of the Yale School of Nursing in 1923, another group of women arrived on the medical campus. The Yale School of Nursing, headed by Dean Annie Goodrich, was the first university school of nursing in the country. It replaced the Connecticut Training School for Nurses that had no official relationship to Yale. The photograph shows the combined last class of the training school and the first graduating class of the nursing school. The school’s initial goal was to train women with bachelor’s degrees to become nurses. Goodrich, as dean of a separate school at Yale, was ranked as a full professor.

(Click here to view an exhibition about the history and legacy of women at the Yale School of Nursing.)

Women Students Arrive at Yale School of Medicine and the Hospital