This section began as a celebration of March and Women’s History Month; it continues as a regular feature because there are so many unrecognized women who have made major contributions to history.
On March 4, 2014 I was invited to Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, to help them celebrate Women’s History Month. I addressed an audience of engaged students and faculty with my talk on women in medicine: “Health and Wellness in America: Little Known Women Who Have Made a Difference.”
Drawing on my background of having written a six-volume history of medicine, I pulled out six unsung heroes who have helped move women forward both in terms of medical careers but also in terms of medical progress. You can watch the 45-minute speech below or read excerpts from my speech.
Leaders Who Have Made a Difference
Lydia Estes Pinkham (1819-1883), the first American woman to take women’s health issues seriously. She created and eventually sold a vegetable tonic that proved helpful with “women’s ills” but more importantly, Pinkham opened a closed door on women’s health issues. Up until this time, women mainly relied on friends and neighbors for health advice, and Pinkham’s product became so popular that people write her for advice. Her responses were mostly common sense (eat well, exercise, and avoid the tight, restrictive clothing that was popular in the 19th century) , but for the first time, women had a place to turn for advice.
Clara Barton (1821-1912)is well-known as the “Angel of the Battlefield” for her work during the Civil War. Later she brought the Red Cross to the U.S. and formed the American Red Cross. However, she is less well-known for running the Office of Missing Soldiers. In a day when soldiers wore no official identification tags, it was often difficult to identify the dead or wounded. Clara Barton set up an office that operated from 1865-1867. She received 63,000 letters from families whose loved ones were missing, and she or her staff answered them all. They also managed to identify 22,000 soldiers.