Since 1987, March has been observed annually as Women’s History Month, celebrating women’s contributions to society and culture throughout American history. For 2022, the official theme of the celebration is “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.”
This year’s theme pays homage to the ongoing work of women healthcare professionals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. It also recognizes the ways women of all cultures have provided healing and hope throughout history—here are five trailblazers who forged a path for women in healthcare.
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
Best known as an advocate for the abolition of enslaved people, Sojourner Truth served as a nurse during her enslavement.
Once freed, she worked vehemently through the National Freedman’s Relief Association in Washington, DC, advocating for nursing education and formal training programs for freed African American Women.
Learn more about Truth and her extraordinary efforts.
Dorothea Dix (1802-1887)
An early 19th-century activist, Dorothea Dix drastically changed the medical field during her lifetime, championing causes for the mentally ill and Indigenous populations.
She also helped transform the field of nursing when the Union Army named her the Superintendent of Army Nurses during the Civil War.
While male doctors despised female nurses at the time, Dix continued to push for formal training and more opportunities for women nurses.
Learn more about Dix and her accomplishments.
Susan La Flesche Picotte (1865-1915)
Born on the Omaha Reservation in northeastern Nebraska, Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte was the first Native American woman in the United States to receive a medical degree.
In 1894, she and her husband established a private practice that served white and non-white patients. Two years before her death, Picotte opened a hospital in the reservation town of Walthill, Nebraska.
She helped more than 1,300 people during her extraordinary career, providing financial advice and access to 24/7 medical care.
Learn more about Picotte and her achievements.
Gertrude Elion (1918-1999)
Gertrude Elion had a fantastic career as a biochemist and pharmacologist. She helped develop drugs used to treat major diseases such as leukemia.
She worked on the first immunosuppressive drug to fight rejection in organ transplants and the first successful antiviral drug to treat herpes infection. In retirement, Elion supervised the development of azidothymidine, an AIDS treatment that prevents pregnant women from spreading the disease to their children.
In 1988, she received the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Then in 1991, she became the first woman inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Learn more about Elion and her achievements.
Antonia Novello (1944-Present)
When President George Bush named Dr. Antonia Novello the Surgeon General of the United States in 1990, she became the first woman and Hispanic to hold this office.
As surgeon general, Novella focused her efforts on young people, women, and minorities. She fought against underage drinking, smoking, drug abuse AIDS and pushed for childhood immunization and injury prevention.
Her most visible and effective campaign was shutting down tobacco advertisements aimed at children, namely the “Smooth Character” Joe Camel.
Learn more about Dr. Novello and her healthcare contributions.
Thanks to these trailblazing women, who broke societal and gender expectations for their era, thousands of lives have been saved and will continue to be saved. But they’re not the only women worth celebrating this month, you are too! As a healthcare professional, we commend you for the commitment and compassion you show to patients under your care.