On The Shoulders of Giants
♀ A sepia print of an Indian woman, a Japanese woman and a woman from Syria, dated 1885. What do they have in common? Extraordinarily, each was the first licensed female medical doctor in their country of origin. They were trained at the Women’s Medical College in Pennsylvania, the first of its kind in the country. This was a time before women had the right to vote. If they did attend college at all, it was at the risk of contracting “neuralgia, uterine disease, hysteria, and other derangements of the nervous system” (according to Harvard gynecologist Edward H. Clarke).
♀ An all-woman medical school was first proposed in 1846, supported by the Quakers and the feminist movement. Dr. Ellwood Harvey, one of the early teaching faculty, daringly smuggled out a slave, Ann Maria Weems, dressed as a male buggy driver, from right outside the White House. With his reward money, he bought his students a papier maché dissection mannequin. Eventually, poverty forced him to quit teaching, but he still helped out with odd jobs. What a magnificent man!
♀ Fate and fortune were to buffet Ms. Joshi’s life. Married at age 9 to a man 11 years older, her husband turned out to be surprisingly progressive. After she lost her first child at age 14, she vowed to render to her “poor suffering country women the true medical aid they so sadly stand in need of and which they would rather die than accept at the hands of a male physician”. She was first offered a scholarship by a missionary on condition that she converted to Christianity. When she demurred, a wealthy socialite from New Jersey stepped in and financed her education. She is believed to be the first Hindu woman to set foot on American soil. I didn’t arrive until 1983 😉
♀ Times were tough then. The fate of these three intrepid pioneers was a sad one. Joshi died of tuberculosis in India at the age of 21, without ever practicing. Fittingly, her husband sent her ashes back to America. Islambouli was not heard of again, likely because she was never allowed to practice in her home country. Although Okami rose to the position of head of gynecology at a Tokyo hospital, she resigned two years later when the Emperor of Japan refused to meet her because she was a woman.
♀ Times have changed. My own mother was married at the age of 13 to a man also 11 years her senior. My father recalls helping my mother with her geography homework in high school. She never did attend college, despite being a charismatic woman with quicksilver wit and efficiency. Little wonder then, when I was accepted into graduate school in the US, unmarried and 21 years young, my parents staunchly stood behind me against the dire predictions of friends and relatives (“She’ll come back with a yellow haired American!” “Haven’t you read Cosmopolitan magazine? They are all perverts there!”). Happily, I escaped perversion, earned my doctoral degree and even gained a supportive spouse of my own. In 2004, I became only the 103rd woman to be promoted to Professor in the 111-year history of the Johns Hopkins medical school, and the first in my department, the oldest Physiology department in the country. If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
More reading: http://www.pri.org/stories/2013-07-15/historical-photos-circulating-depict-women-medical-pioneers
Thanks for sharing this!
And your own story is also very inspiring. Thank you.
Thanks for sharing Rajini ❤
Thank you, I was a hesitant to share a bit of my story on the same page as these brave women. Catherine Maguire , please share if you would like to, of course!
Love this picture Rajini Rao 🙂
I thought of you when I saw the magnificent outfit on the lady from Damascus, Kawthar A . Do the head dress and jewelry look familiar?
Wealthy women used to wear these and that was during the ottoman era. 🙂
I wonder what the Syrian woman is holding in her hand; it looks more sort of a loom than a musical instrument…
Wow that was interesting
al pistacchio , I thought it was a fabric train, but you are right..it looks more like an instrument. Any ideas Kawthar A ?
It’s a middle eastern musical instrument called “qanoon” hmmmm…and I think it’s Syrian 🙂 will do more research
Thanks Kawthar A ;))
Sniff. Pretty moving – especially your story.
Saket Agarwal , yes congrats! I got the historical info from the Drexel University site.
Renata Sherwin , I was a bit teary too as I wrote about the sad outcomes of each of these. So thankful for what we have now.
That is a very good read. Women back in those days really had it tough. What they had to endure and achieve was amazing.
You are welcome! al pistacchio
Oopse, somehow my comment disappeared. But yaay! 🙂
Original comment: kudos to women! Proud to be associated with Drexel university.
Thanks Rajini Rao great story, enjoyed the 21 years young part ;))
Good to remind people that progress on gender equality is not new but very slow to become accepted.
How strange it did disappear, but I saw it, thanks Saket Agarwal .
al pistacchio , hehe, snuck that in 😉
Michael Phelan there is still work to be done for #stemwomen but much cause for optimism.
Thanks for sharing 🙂
That was a great read! Congrats on your achievements!
What happened to the blond man? Did he die of heartbreak after you rejected him? Did he look like Chris Hemsworth of Thor fame?
Sid Jagannathan , haha, there are indeed a couple blonde men in my past (shh, don’t tell my husband). Funny story: I felt obliged to be a “good girl” and returned home to marry a man my parents chose. But thanks to pure dumb luck, he turned out to be great
if only he was blonde, sigh😀
Wow. What amazing people–yourself included. Thanks for sharing, Rajini Rao ! 🙂
Thanks, Jonah Miller 🙂
Wonderful, wonderful..and great!!!
Thank your Mother & Father for everything you are ! I ‘worked’ with your father, Rao, .
Hi Neil Tsubota , long time no see 🙂
Tremendous post, thank you so much for sharing this! I had always wondered how you made your journey in such a difficult setting of science and academia.
Very interesting. Thank you for sharing.
BJ Bolender I wanted to be a biochemist since I first heard the word as a little girl. More recently, I found my essay for graduate school admission (typed up on a flimsy yellowing carbon copy sheet of paper). Oddly, I’m doing just the sort of research I said that I wanted to do (membrane proteins, ion transport). So, I’m not complaining!
Less than a woman per year. There is still work do..
Excellent post, I wish those women had found more success though, but alas they where pioneers.
Sad, but not forgotten. Thank you for writing this post; I had heard of none of them before today.
LIke all the others above, I appreciate you sharing these stories!
Rajini Rao You made my day with this post, my friend ! Great stuff :-}
You da bomb !
Awesome, thank you John Kampsen . Thanks also to Gaythia Weis , M. Aamir Naseer (you’re a biomedical scientist?), Robert Moser 🙂
It is good to know the stories of our foremothers. My Ph. D. mentor had an esteemed senior colleague, a woman who retired never having risen above lecturer. At forty my Ph. D. mentor held her first tenure track appointment. At forty I was a full professor. At forty my first woman honors student was a dean. The arc of the universe…
Jan Costantini , I’m sure it’s the other way around (lucky escape for a couple of old bfs).
I made a campaign out of persuading the family (especially, grandmom) about traveling so far away from home – glossy brochures and all 🙂
Drew Sowersby we are tangentially looking at ENAC (sodium channel) in Lithium induced nephrotoxicity. Several of the transporter we study move sodium and lithium.
Thank you for this post. That photo is a treasure :). I didn’t know, but now I am going to tell most anyone who will listen. Also congratulations! I didn’t know that about you. 103rd woman Professor in 111 years is a good deal!
LOL! @ wishing hubby had blonde hair…I am glad he turned out to be More Human than some I know 😉
Such a moving post. Thank you, Rajini Rao. We do stand on the shoulders of giants.
Its really wonderful.
Great tribute, Rajini Rao.
The instrument does look like a quanun – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qanun_%28instrument%29 – one of Syria’s musical instruments. It looks like something that may have morphed eventually into Eastern Europe’s cymbaly ( dulcimer ) – http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cymba%C5%82y
Thank you for sharing this moving yet inspiring post Rajini Rao It is not easy for women to reach the top and to remain there. I am very proud of your achievements Rajini!
Rajini, what an inspirational story all around! You capped it beautifully with your personal narrative, I am in total awe of you! Never late to recognize a job well done, congrstulations on your personal avhievements! No doubt your Mom and Dad brim with pride at the thought of your professional accomplishments. Thank tou for the share. Simply loved it!
Your story absolutely belongs with theirs. The thread binding us one to the other through time is strong, even when the connections seem distant.
LOL Very nice post +Rajini Rao including ‘Yellow haired american’. One remark, the name Islambouli doesn’t make sense in Arabic and Is certainly Istambouli which means ‘who comes from Istambul’. Current Syria was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1516 to 1918 and she was certainly from Ottoman descent, rich traders in general in Ottoman occupied countries.
Thank you, all!
Oksana Szulhan , for the info on the quanun, as Kawthar A guessed.
Madjid Boukri , the Indian name is also misspelled, and the name of her town doesn’t quite make sense either. Kawthar also mentioned that her head dress and clothing were Ottoman.
This is an excellent piece Rajini. Loved how you weaved your mother’s story here. I think sometimes people from other cultures need to be reminded that even within restrictive environments, such as in arranged marriages, women have agency, like your mum supporting your education. Also in this context men can and do support progress such as your dad. Women like your mum (and mine and Others) who live within the “patriarchal bargain” are quiet trail blazers behind the scenes, by encouraging the next generation of women in STEM.
Being only the 103rd woman Professor in 111 years is progress but not far enough – another matter not to be overlooked.
I’m pleased you evaded perversion despite Cosmo’s heavy predictions to the contrary…
Thank you – what a wonderful piece of history to share, and what a great way of tying it to the present through your own story.
not to get off on the wrong foot, but i grew partially up in sequim. grand parents lived there. they were origonally from findland. born& raised.
The image is very nice… the courage and conviction of these women to, pursue the subjects in a time when social norms forbade them to do so, is really laudable and commendable.
And I also applaud and congratulate you on becoming the 103rd woman to be promoted to Professor in the 111-year history of the prestigious and world-renowned Johns Hopkins medical school.
Bravo Rajini, I am so impressed with the photo and the story and definetly with your accomplishments. Proud to be a woman.
Yes, on the shoulders of giants! Because women are Giants too don’t cha know?
Rajini Rao A very moving piece. As a man, I hang my head in shame at the historic (and continuing) stupidity of my sex.
Great post Rajini Rao. You are a giant and a tremendous role model.
Rajini Rao – What remarkable stories, and what extraordinary people throughout. I regret and resent the constant backsliding I see in the media on the topic of equal rights – the continuing opposition, the ongoing resistance. Every story, every victory is progress, and every retelling reminds us all of what is possible and what is at stake.
And your story: I knew from following your posts and reading your comments that I was fortunate to be in the presence of a genuine, dedicated scientist and science communicator. How pleased and impressed and humbled I am to find myself in the presence of greatness, a maker of history. Your achievements are as remarkable as these stories, and illustrate the continuing struggle for equality and the resulting success that all people should be free to pursue. My hat is off to you, Madame Scientist, with equal parts respect and admiration and gratitude.
“If they did attend college at all, it was at the risk of contracting “neuralgia, uterine disease, hysteria, and other derangements of the nervous system”
Yes Rajini Rao it’s been obvious for some time now… you poor thing… 🙂
Excelent story Rajini Rao
You are a special human being.
Rajini Rao Thank you for that delightful insight into your personal history. A whole new side to Madame Moderator;-)
I would think your parents had to work very hard to find somebody who was suitable for you. I suspect that their insights into your personality and strength set them a difficult target. That you had a good outcome from their choice, despite your earlier dabbling with blond perverts, is an interesting recommendation against the random way of choosing a mate so widely used in the west. At least for people with parents as wise as yours!
Stunning picture….. So telling
Rajini Rao it is your part of the story that puts this in context, brings us to today, and back to ‘real’ life. When I was studying science, I had a friend who was one of the few women studying civil engineering at the University of Cape Town.
Yes Oksana Szulhan the instrument is a typical Turkish qanoun instrument. The word in Arabic means ‘Law, rule’ [from ancien Greek κανών]. This instrument is sort of leader among all instrument. One Qanoun to rule them all. The word Canon as rule, law, musical piece in English, French etc comes from qanoun.
Very good post.
Your posts are always very good but this is the best yet! Great news combined with some milestones of the human race. Education is not an option, it is a lifestyle. It is a vital aspect of life, as important as having a family.
Very interesting John. A great inspiration for any woman today. Thanks for sharing.
A lovely nod to the people who went before you, Ranjini. Congratulations. And thank you for sharing something of yourself.
Many thanks, for stopping by and reading.
> This was a time before women had the right to vote. If they did attend college at all, it was at the risk of contracting “neuralgia, uterine disease, hysteria, and other derangements of the nervous system” (according to Harvard gynecologist Edward H. Clarke).
David Andrews, I’ve long found it a worthwhile practice to check all these telling quotes; too often we libel intelligent thoughtful men by brutal misquotation & dishonesty. If you look at what Clarke actually wrote, in http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/18504/pg18504.txt (no excuse for not being able to check if one wanted, it’s all online these days!), one gets quite a different picture.
Immediately before the quote, Clarke writes:
‘Gail Hamilton’s statement is true, that, “a girl can go to school, pursue all the studies which Dr. Todd enumerates, except ad infinitum; know them, not as well as a chemist knows chemistry or a botanist botany, but as well as they are known by boys of her age and training, as well, indeed, as they are known by many college-taught men, enough, at least, to be a solace and a resource to her; then graduate before she is eighteen, and come out of school as healthy, as fresh, as eager, as she went in.”‘
Hm. Interesting context, wouldn’t you say?
“Boys must study and work in a boy’s way, and girls in a girl’s way. They may study the same books, and attain an equal result, but should not follow the same method. Mary can master Virgil and Euclid as well as George; but both will be dwarfed,–defrauded of their rightful attainment,–if both are confined to the same methods. It is said that Elena Cornaro, the accomplished professor of six languages, whose statue adorns and honors Padua, was educated like a boy. This means that she was initiated into, and mastered, the studies that were considered to be the peculiar dower of men. It does not mean that her life was a man’s life, her way of study a man’s way of study, or that, in acquiring six languages, she ignored her own organization. Women who choose to do so can master the humanities and the mathematics, encounter the labor of the law and the pulpit, endure the hardness of physic and the conflicts of politics; but they must do it all in woman’s way, not in man’s way. In all their work they must respect their own organization, and remain women, not strive to be men, or they will ignominiously fail.”
Who could possibly agree with this? This is why us moderns do not hold with sex-segregation in anything at all – not in Olympics, not in sports, not in elementary schools. An all-girl Catholic school is an abomination, and we dismiss as sexist nonsense claims by educators that, for example, girls might learn more in all-girls classes or that all-girls organizations like ‘Girls Who Code’ are anything but outdated nonsense. (Oh wait…)
“”Woman,” says a late writer, “must be regarded as woman, not as a nondescript animal, with greater or less capacity for assimilation to man.” If we would give our girls a fair chance, and see them become and do their best by reaching after and attaining an ideal beauty and power, which shall be a crown of glory and a tower of strength to the republic, we must look after their complete development as women. Wherein they are men, they should be educated as men; wherein they are women, they should be educated as women.”
Why, I’ve never read anything so outrageous in my life!
“Perhaps it should be mentioned in this connection, that, throughout this paper, education is not used in the limited and technical sense of intellectual or mental training alone. By saying there is a boy’s way of study and a girl’s way of study, it is not asserted that the intellectual process which masters Juvenal, German, or chemistry, is different for the two sexes.”
Are you sure, Dr Clarke? Because based on that out of context quote, I thought you were some sort of horrid sexist who believed women were childish weak animals or something like that. Are you sure women can ever really hope to master chemistry, just like a man? They didn’t award the Nobel Prize to Rosalind Franklin, amirite?
“The delicate bloom, early but rapidly fading beauty, and singular pallor of American girls and women have almost passed into a proverb. The first observation of a European that lands upon our shores is, that our women are a feeble race; and, if he is a physiological observer, he is sure to add, They will give birth to a feeble race, not of women only, but of men as well. “I never saw before so many pretty girls together,” said Lady Amberley to the writer, after a visit to the public schools of Boston; and then added, “They all looked sick.” Circumstances have repeatedly carried me to Europe, where I am always surprised by the red blood that fills and colors the faces of ladies and peasant girls, reminding one of the canvas of Rubens and Murillo; and am always equally surprised on my return, by crowds of pale, bloodless female faces, that suggest consumption, scrofula, anemia, and neuralgia. To a large extent, our present system of educating girls is the cause of this palor and weakness.”
Most peculiar. It almost sounds as if Clarke were criticizing the capabilities of a narrow class of WASPy American women, and not universalizing to all women. As if he thought there were something particular bad about their environment and this is why thoughtlessly hurling them into college might have bad results, and that the colleges themselves might be at further fault.
“It has just been said that the educational methods of our schools and colleges for girls are, to a large extent, the cause of “the thousand ills” that beset American women. Let it be remembered that this is not asserting that such methods of education are the sole cause of female weaknesses, but only that they are one cause, and one of the most important causes of it. An immense loss of female power may be fairly charged to irrational cooking and indigestible diet. We live in the zone of perpetual pie and dough-nut; and our girls revel in those unassimilable abominations. Much also may be credited to artificial deformities strapped to the spine, or piled on the head, much to corsets and skirts, and as much to the omission of clothing where it is needed as to excess where the body does not require it; but, after the amplest allowance for these as causes of weakness, there remains a large margin of disease unaccounted for. Those grievous maladies which torture a woman’s earthly existence, called leucorrhoea, amenorrhoea, dysmenorrhoea, chronic and acute ovaritis, prolapsus uteri, hysteria, neuralgia, and the like, are indirectly affected by food, clothing, and exercise; they are directly and largely affected by the causes that will be presently pointed out, and which arise from a neglect of the peculiarities of a woman’s organization. The regimen of our schools fosters this neglect. The regimen of a college arranged for boys, if imposed on girls, would foster it still more. …Corsets that embrace the waist with a grip that tightens respiration into pain, and skirts that weight the hips with heavier than maternal burdens, have often caused grievous maladies, and imposed a needless invalidism.”
Mmmm… delicious disease-causing dough-nut… Wait, I mean, this reminds me of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corset_controversy (And so on. I think I’ve made my point.)
gwern branwen I will need a lot more coffee before I comprehend your point 🙂
I think you are saying that the quote was out of context? If so, then I apologize. I used it because I was amused by the root of the word “hysteria”, which in the late 19th century was a malady attributed to women, believed to be caused by problems with their uterus- from the Greek ὑστέρα hystera for “uterus”.
On a lighter note, it was also on Google+ that some friends recommended that I watch the movie “Hysteria” that plays off this “female disorder”. I should pass the recommendation along!
This is simply an amazing story!
Rajini Rao….wonderful piece of history for us to know….and your position too!!…..am so glad have come across somebody like you…thanks a lot…..am tending to reshare your posts….thinking that many more people too should benefit by your wonderful posts…may I plz?
gwern branwen I’m not sure what you read into my comment, but Rajini Rao knows I have the highest regard for her and her weapons grade intellect.
It would be beneath her character to make a point at someone else’s expense by taking a statement out of context.
You are a true leader and inspiration to us all Rajini Rao!!!
Yes for women and STEM Rajini Rao Believe it or not this was popular in 1975. (Looks like history repeats) Congrats. My own fa had a 6th grade education, mom 9th, they thought mental illness was a communicable disease, but also supported. LOL. Helen Reddy – ‘I Am Woman’ (Live) 1975
This post brought tears to my eyes. I stand in awe and admiration. Thank you for sharing your part of the story Rajini Rao :-). Your best post ever!
What a precious and inspiring photo!
Great post Rajini Rao! Thanks for sharing this bit of important history as well as your own background.
There is certainly still some way to go for equal rights everywhere in the world, but we’ve come a long way since then after all!
Wonderfully written, and I love that you added a bit of your own back story Rajini Rao. Maybe a bit slow, but things are changing. Their fates may have been sad, but their legacy is a great one.
What a great story of women and your own incredible hard work to become to become the 103rd woman to be promoted to Professor in the 111-year history of the Johns Hopkins medical school, and the first in my department, the oldest Physiology department in the country.
Congratulations on your stellar achievement.
Wow!!! Its hard to get the cultures with their indigenous style together in those days and capturing it in photographs is a step above that 🙂
Well..that is something really amazing.. Belonging to the same group.. I can feel the dignity..!
And am also first doctor ..in my family though.. 😛 🙂 😀
vagisha sharma , congratulations! We’re building a sisterhood, one STEM woman at a time 🙂
Hi5:-P 😉 😀
Dear rajini Rao your most of the pictures and collection are very admirable. ……
Rajini, the photograph and the information that you provided are amazing. It is truly an admirable piece of contribution to the Google community.
VERY nice. Thank you!
Thank you all, for your wonderful comments. I must say that this post “wrote itself” in a matter of minutes. I’m thrilled that it struck a chord in many of you, as it did for me. Thanks.
Thanks. I also see this photo in the Guardian newspaper on Saturday along
with others. Nice.
Does anyone know whether it might be possible to obtain a larger print of this image?
Vlad Levin , I would start with the Legacy Center Archives, Drexel University College of Medicine.
Vlad Levin Rajini Rao Here is the largest print I found (1500×2400) http://goo.gl/UQIaTz
Dean’s reception http://goo.gl/ebKkZj
Madjid Boukri , thanks. That’s where I got this image as well.
Ah Rajini Rao Link to the original from Archives of College of Medicine.is
Maybe it is better ,,,,
Lovely, thanks! Now we know that the occasion was a Dean’s reception.
Thanks Madjid Boukri!
Very nice picture
Beautiful women… everywhere you go
I love IT….
I really enjoyed reading your story. Keep up the good work. ☺
Late Dr. Anandibai Joshi indeed was a very brave woman. And, so are you! I was so happy read about you as well!! Belated Congratulations to you Rajini!! 🙂
in homage to these inpretid femeal doctors, i can imagenated the heavy impact on struggling education in that feministless era. thanks Rajini Rao !
Life must have been hard for these intrepid ladies I salute them
thanx for given good knowledge…….
https://plus.google.com/u/0/114601143134471609087. Rajini Rao – I have often and often used that phrase, “If we can see a little further, it is because we stand on the shoulders of Giants.” Their height makes up for my poor eyesight. Everyone who enjoys the Delaware beaches (cleanest in the Nation) should come to know June MacArtor. Since 1989, my wife and I have been Unitarian Universalists, or U.U.s we call ourselves. The first U.U. I met was her husband, Frank MacArtor, another Giant.
Thanks for sharing.
One of them is our distant relative 🙂
Teen medical devi`an in their respective tradition attires, really amazing.
Hey, that sounds interesting. Where did you get thos picture?
Ananthy Kalaimani the source is linked at the very end of my post.
Thanks. You are a very brave women to share this information.
God bless u N ur family ur parents ll be proud of you
I would assume that I’m very late to the conversation, but due to the fact I start school tomorrow, it was inspiring to here of the odds each lady overcame to succeed. Even you Rajini, are an inspiration for our day and time.
Thank you, Marcus Levi . Good luck in school! 🙂
Thank you Rajini, I will need it. 🙂
Nice account of early pioneers
It’s a Good for Nation & me to improve our GK & motto of Service . Thaks lot
This is an amazing, inspiring story, Rajini Rao! I found it first as a repost on Zuleyka Zevallos’s stream. I appreciate the time you took to write and post this.
Robert Woodman this was one of those posts “that wrote itself” once I saw the photograph 🙂
I’m inspired 🙂 Thank you. Rajini Rao
I remember having seen the bulky volume of “On the Shoulders of Giants” in Vikram Sarabhai Library two years ago: I was wondering why should the shoulders be troubled really! Could the world have turned upside down if Newton would have replaced the word “shoulders” with “footsteps”? 🙂 Also, why did the apple falling entice his attention? Weren’t the falling leaves of the apple tree not enough to conclude the laws of relativity? Further, don’t our eyelids follow the same principle of gravity (let alone the musculature of the eyelids, for once)?
I’m sure someone brought this up in the comments, but here it is again. Newton may have been sarcastic and pejorative with that famous phrase. “The quotation above was written by IsaacNewton as a backhanded insult directed squarely at RobertHooke (1635-1702), with whom Newton carried on a life long, bitter rivalry. Newton used this quote in a letter responding to Hooke’s claim that Newton stole the hypothesis on light from Hooke’s “Micrographia”. Newton was familiar with Micrographia and claimed that Hooke took much of the work from Descartes who – claimed Newton – took his work from Marcantonia de Dominis and Ariotto. The comment was very likely intended to be sarcastic as Hooke was a very short man, practically a midget.”
Rajini Rao Many thanks for the rejoinder 🙂
Great information. JayGurudev
nao gosto desta foto
Nice article with a nice old photo