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Dorothy Horstmann, MD, and Current Women Faculty Are Celebrated at Unveiling of Aperture 2

November 25, 2019
by Jill Max

Faculty, students, and staff celebrated the achievements of women faculty on November 20 at the unveiling of an oil portrait of the late Dorothy Horstmann, MD and the opening of Aperture 2: Portraits of Women Faculty in Medicine.

Horstmann was a noted epidemiologist whose work on the poliovirus showed that it was present in the blood before attacking the nerves and that the immune system could eliminate it. This laid the groundwork for the development of a vaccine. In 1961, she became the first woman at the School of Medicine to earn tenure as a full professor when she was appointed professor of epidemiology and pediatrics. In 1969, she became the first woman to receive an endowed chair at Yale University and in 1975, she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. She retired in 1982 as an emeritus professor and a senior research analyst.

Despite her many achievements, and the fact that there is an endowed lectureship in her name, until now the only visual recognition of Horstmann at Sterling Hall of Medicine was a poor-quality reproduction of a photograph. In part that had to do with her declining during her career to be the subject of a portrait. When the School of Medicine decided to commission this posthumous portrait, which is temporarily exhibited next to the Beaumont Room, it was a further step to honor Horstmann, a physician-scientist who was a role model to those in her generation, as well as those who have followed in her footsteps.

Working from a photograph by an unknown photographer combined with archived material and conversations with colleagues who knew her, artist Alastair Adams set the portrait in the medical library, which Horstmann championed, surrounding her with books—including A History of Poliomyelitis by Horstmann’s mentor John Rodman Paul, MD— and such personal items as a porcelain Danish dish that were meaningful to Horstmann. The portrait also includes a younger version of Horstmann, depicted in an open book on the table at which she is seated.

“She demanded the best of herself and everyone around her,” said Nancy Ruddle, PhD, professor emeritus of and senior research scientist in epidemiology (microbial diseases), who was a graduate student when she first met Horstmann. “She felt that she had sacrificed much to her science and her career and she believed it was difficult, if not impossible for a woman to have it all.”

“Yale has done herself proud to recognize and celebrate this magnificent person with this extraordinary tribute,” said George Miller, Jr., MD, John. F. Enders Professor of Pediatrics (Infectious Disease) and professor of epidemiology (microbial diseases) and of molecular biophysics and biochemistry, who was recruited to Yale by Horstmann.

The Horstmann painting is one of three portraits of women recently commissioned by the School of Medicine. A portrait of the late Deputy Dean Carolyn Slayman, PhD, was unveiled last March, while a portrait of Beatrix Hamburg, MD, the first African American woman to graduate from YSM, is slated to be completed this spring.

Surrounding the Horstmann and Slayman portraits, Aperture 2 is the second part in an exhibit of photographic portraits of women faculty currently at YSM. “Aperture” refers to a space or gap, signifying the scarcity of women on the walls of SHM. The genesis of the exhibit came from a series of portraits taken by photographer Robert A. Lisak, MFA ’81, to commemorate 100 Years of Women at YSM in 2018. The Program for Art in Public Spaces, chaired by Darin Latimore, MD, deputy dean and chief diversity officer, and Anna Reisman, MD, professor and director of the Program for Humanities in Medicine, with Executive Committee members Terry Dagradi; Melissa Grafe, PhD; Jill Max, MS; and Jennifer Reynolds-Kaye, PhD, commissioned additional portraits to add to the depth and diversity of the exhibit. Aperture is also hosted by the Committee for Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice (CDISJ), the Committee on the Status of Women in Medicine (SWIM), the Minority Organization for Retention and Expansion (MORE), the Office for Women in Medicine, and the Yale Women’s Housestaff Organization (YWHO). The exhibit will remain on display through June 2020.

The portraits of women faculty are a departure from the historic paintings of white men that until recently lined the walls of the hallway and rotunda leading to the Beaumont Room. Each portrait includes a statement by the women about advice they would offer their younger selves, what they would say to inspire the next generation of women, and what led them to choose their career path.

“It's really important as students that we see these women on our walls so that we can gain inspiration from them,” said fifth year student Brianna Olamiju in her remarks at the opening. “As a female student, I want to know that I belong here and I have a place here.”

Fourth year student Nientara Anderson described the diversity on the walls as a “psychic welcome” for members of the YSM community who previously did not see themselves represented in the school’s public spaces. “We come here to become our future selves and it's important that those selves are on the wall,” she said. “I think that the symbolic importance of this moment of using art to expand the boundaries of the School of Medicine and to reaffirm the belonging of women and people of color is truly meaningful.”

Submitted by Robert Forman on November 25, 2019