Florence Sabin – Preparing the Ground for Women in Medical Science

Florence Sabin

On November 9, 1871American medical scientist Florence Rena Sabin was born. She was a pioneer for women in science. She was the first woman to hold a full professorship at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the first woman elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and the first woman to head a department at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.

Florence Sabin was born in Colorado, but grew up with her Uncle Albert Sabin in Chicago and then with their paternal grandparents in Vermont. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Smith College in 1893 and taught mathematics and zoology afterwards. Sabin then attended the John Hopkins University School of Medicine and graduated there as the first woman. Franklin Mall noticed Sabin’s skills in the laboratory and the anatomist then helped the young woman to get involved in further projects and building up a good reputation.

As part of Mall’s projectsSabin produced a 3D model of a newborn baby’s brainstem. This project was considered successful and the textbook ‘An Atlas of the Medulla and Midbrain‘ was published as a result in 1901. Another project focused on the embryological development of the lymphatic system which proved that the lymphatic system is formed from the embryo’s blood vessels. [1,2]

Sabin became an intern at Johns Hopkins Hospital followed by a research fellowship in the Department of Anatomy at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She began to teach at the department in 1902 and was appointed full professor of embryology and histology in 1917. Florence Sabin was back then the first known woman in the position of the full professor at a medical college and the first female president of the American Association of Anatomists as well as the first lifetime woman member of the National Academy of SciencesSabin later focused her research on the origins of blood, blood vessels, blood cells, the histology of the brain, and the pathology and immunology of tuberculosis. She also became the head of the Department of Cellular Studies at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York City.

After her retirement, Florence Sabin became involved in health projects in Colorado and published studies revealing the bad health situations all over the state. She fought against uninterested politicians and her effort was rewarded with new health bills which became known as the ‘Sabin Health Laws’. She took part in modernizing the public health system and became manager of health and charities for Denver, donating her salary to medical research. Florence Sabin passed away on October 3, 1953. [3]

At yovisto, you may be interested in a TED Talk about Visualizing the medical data explosion by Anders Ynnerman.

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