50 Women Who Shaped America's Health

Clara Barton, Michelle Obama and others.

If you've received a blood transfusion, had lifesaving radiation therapy, experienced a natural birth or even lost weight by counting calories, you have used one of the many health innovations given to us by women in medicine.

In honor of Women's History Month, the Healthy Living staff has been thinking about the accomplishments of the women who pioneered work in the sciences. As health journalists, we believe that all doctors and researchers deserve more recognition for their contributions to society. And as women, we can't help but notice that our gender can affect the way we're treated in these disciplines -- from colleague discrimination to legislation aimed at lessening the control female patients have over their bodies, it can sometimes feel as though we're living in a previous era.

That is, until we realize what previous generations actually went through. Take for example the story of Rosalind Franklin: the geneticist's strides in X-ray photography led to the best images of DNA strands of her era, but coworker Maurice Wilkins shared her images with a competing team at Cambridge, who used it to help solve the mystery of how DNA is structured. It wasn't until decades later that Franklin was recognized for her contribution -- well after her death and after that competing team (along with Wilkins) were awarded the Nobel Prize.

Now, we live in a country where half of medical school graduates are women and a country where we value -- have actually written into law -- retelling the accomplishments of women in our own history. So we decided to celebrate by bringing together a list of 50 women who have had the greatest impact in medicine and health research and have, in the process, taught us about our own bodies.

This is by no means a definitive list. We couldn't include everyone -- and thank goodness the entirety of female medical accomplishment cannot fit squarely into 50 slides. With a few exceptions, we focused on American women. We tried to divide evenly between living and dead. But we did our best to choose women, both famous and unknown, who have built our understanding of health. We have Civil War-era doctors and contemporary neurobiologists; field researchers in Congo and political organizers in Boston. But this is just the start of the conversation. Please tell us who inspires you in the comments.

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Before You Go

<strong>Clara Barton</strong>, Founder Of The Red Cross

Women Who Changed Our Health


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