Anatomist & Public Health Reformer
By Kathleen McFadden
In 1900, Florence Sabin became the first
woman to graduate from Johns Hopkins Medical School. Luckily for
Florence, she studied under Franklin Mall, an anatomy professor
who was able to see past gender and recognize Florence's extraordinary
talent and aptitude for science. Mall became Florence's mentor
and encouraged her interest in anatomy, a science that was undergoing
rapid transformation at the turn of the century.
Previously, anatomy had been purely
descriptive and concerned with learning the names and locations
of the internal organs. But the push was on to learn the hows
and whys, and Florence was in the forefront of the research revolution.
She began teaching anatomy at Johns Hopkins in 1902 and spent
her non-teaching time in the lab. She focused on embryology and
made important discoveries about the development of blood cells
and the lymphatic system, showing that they develop from buds
on the veins of an embryo.
In 1917, she was named a full professor,
the first woman to achieve that rank at Johns Hopkins, and in
1924 she was elected the first woman president of the American
Association of Anatomists and the first lifetime woman member
of the National Academy of Science. In 1925 she moved to the Rockefeller
Institute for Medical Research as head of the Department of Cellular
Studies and continued her work on the lymphatic system, blood
vessels, and cells, and also concentrated on tuberculosis research.
Florence retired in 1938, but six years
later when she was in her 70s, the governor of her home state
of Colorado asked her to chair a subcommittee on health. She accepted
the challenge and threw her energies into the task of reforming
the state's public health system via the Sabin Health Laws. Then
in 1948 she took on a public health management role in Denver
and donated her salary to medical research.
Thirteen years after her original retirement,
Florence retired again. A statue of Florence, donated by the state
of Colorado in 1959, stands in the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary
She was born on November 9, 1871 and
died in 1953.