With March being recognized as Women’s History Month, I decided I would use my health-focused writing to highlight some of the amazing contributions that women have made to the field of public health and healthcare. Unsurprisingly, some of the most important impacts on health have been discovered or created by women. So, without further ado, here are some amazing ways that women have helped shape the health fields of the United States!
Clara Barton (1821-1912) was a nurse known for her work during the American Civil War. Beyond her tremendous care and service during the war, she is most well-known today as the founder of the American Red Cross in 1881. As we know, the Red Cross is an organization that strives to provide emergency assistance to communities across the United States and internationally. From preparing medical supplies and blood to organizing health care providers, the Red Cross works to help communities hit by disasters in the most efficient way possible. Much like the work of its founder during the war, the American Red Cross continues to serve the most hurting and vulnerable people.
Another woman pioneering the way for women in healthcare was Elizabeth Blackwell. Blackwell was the first woman in the United States to receive an M.D. degree in 1849. Achieving this feat required extreme adversity, as Blackwell had to prove her worth in a male-dominated profession (she was supposedly granted admission as a joke by the male student body). She stated her inspiration to pursue medicine came from a conversation with a dying female friend who stated that their worst suffering could have been avoided had they been treated by a female doctor. Later in life, Blackwell and other colleagues would work to establish the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. This institution would continue to provide training and experience for future women physicians and medical care for the poor. With a majority of today’s young physicians in the United States being women, it is important to remember the hard work and sacrifice that was given by pioneers like Blackwell to give women these opportunities.
A final influential woman in the health field is Margaret Sanger. Sanger is known as an early feminist and political rights activist who worked to legalize birth control for women in the United States. Being trained as a nurse, Sanger had experience working with patients who had attempted back-alley abortions or self-termination of their pregnancies. Seeing the unnecessary harm that came to these women was one of the motivating factors for Sanger to push for birth control access. Sanger would later open the first legal U.S. birth control clinic and help establish the American Birth Control League (a precursor to today’s Planned Parenthood). With women across the United States utilizing birth control today to improve their health and lives, it is important to remember the efforts that Sanger and others had to give to get us here (she actually had to flee the country once and went to jail for her birth control advocacy efforts).
These are just a few examples of the many women who have made positive impacts on the health of the United States. Although these women each worked in a variety of different fields and from a variety of different angles, there is one obvious similarity between them. Each of them had to overcome adversity in order to achieve their goals. In many ways, this adversity continues to exist for women in the United States today. However, when reflecting on the achievements these women accomplished, we can find hope that despite the adversity women will continue to fight to improve the health and lives of the most disadvantaged communities.