Women Shaping Medicine
By Sharon Tregaskis
The College of Physicians and Surgeons, an independent New York medical school that opened in 1807, merged with Columbia’s medical faculty in 1814 before entering into a limited partnership with Columbia in 1860. In 1891, when Columbia and P&S had fully merged, a newspaper article described the merger and its benefits for faculty (“A large amount of money will be spent in the encouragement of original research”) and for students (“the opportunities given to the students for advanced study will be greater than have ever before been offered in New York”). Columbia’s president was quoted as saying the merger put the college in a position that “will make it the best medical college in America, if not in the world.” One stipulation of the 1891 merger was not reported—that the medical school would retain “the right to refuse instruction to women.” It would be another quarter of a century before that changed.
In October 1917, 12 women—10 percent of the entering class—became the first female students. Chief among them was Gulli Lindh Muller, P&S’21, who later became one of the first female interns at Presbyterian Hospital and briefly worked as an instructor at P&S before following her husband to New England.
Perhaps the college’s most famous luminaries for the better part of the 20th century were two Virginias: Virginia Kneeland Frantz, P&S’22 and Virginia Apgar, P&S’33. A surgical pathologist, Dr. Frantz was a renowned teacher, author, and researcher who served on the P&S faculty from 1924 to 1964. Second in her class of 74 students, Dr. Frantz was the first woman named to a surgical internship at Presbyterian Hospital. In 1949, Dr. Apgar, an anesthesiologist, became the first woman to be appointed to a full professorship at P&S. She gained renown for her Apgar newborn scoring system.
These women are legendary among P&S history enthusiasts. Presented here are profiles of just a few of the other women who made contributions to P&S history while serving on the faculty during the 20th century; they, too, shaped the course of P&S—and medical—history.