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Celebration and Reflection: A century of women in medicine at Yale

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2018 - Spring


A daylong symposium will commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first women admitted to the School of Medicine.

To matriculate as the first women at Yale School of Medicine in 1916, Louise Farnam, Helen May Scoville, and Lillian Lydia Nye needed to surmount an unusual barrier. The medical school’s governing body had voted in 1915 to admit women, with the provision that a women’s restroom be built to accommodate them. Farnam’s father funded the construction, thus paving the way for the three women to enroll.

One hundred years later, the School of Medicine celebrates this milestone and the many accomplishments by women that have taken place since. On June 1, 2018, the school will host Celebration and Reflection, a symposium to celebrate the contributions of women faculty and alumnae. Sponsored by the Committee on the Status of Women in Medicine (SWIM), the Minority Organization for Retention & Expansion (MORE), and the dean’s office, the event features speakers who will discuss their work, challenges faced by women in their fields, and hurdles encountered on the pathway to work-life balance.

“The symposium is significant because women are often not celebrated,” says Elizabeth Jonas, MD, professor of neurology, who co-heads the planning committee with Margaret Bia, MD, professor of medicine (nephrology). “It’s also important to have a forum to discuss issues that women need to address, such as equity in salary, resources, attention from donors and administrators, and leadership.”

The symposium, which kicks off Alumni Weekend, includes sessions on the history of women in medicine, women in science and clinical care, the experience of being a woman in an underrepresented minority, and current issues that women face as they pursue careers in science and medicine. All of the symposium speakers are women, and each session features several faculty members from YSM. The keynote address will be delivered by Juanita L. Merchant, MD ’81, PhD ’84, the H. Marvin Pollard Professor of Gastrointestinal Sciences, and a professor of internal medicine and of molecular and integrative physiology at the University of Michigan Medical School. The day concludes with a reception where attendees will have the opportunity to connect with friends, mentors, and former professors.

“We want this symposium to highlight all the expertise, talent, and resourcefulness of Yale faculty and alumnae, but we also would like each speaker to share her own special story—something that does not routinely occur at most symposia,” says Bia. She notes that there are few opportunities for women to share their experiences and learn from one another, which is why organizers included the term “reflection” in the symposium’s title.

The celebration of 100 years of women at YSM comes at a time when women are galvanized by the #MeToo movement and by women’s marches around the country to protest the mistreatment and inequities that women continue to face. “We’ve been struggling along, not even realizing ourselves how repressed we are,” says Jonas, who hopes for such changes as increasing numbers of women on faculty search committees. She notes that Darin Latimore, MD, the medical school’s first deputy dean for diversity and inclusion, who arrived in January 2017, is helping to effect change through such efforts as increasing faculty awareness of unconscious bias among both men and women.

As part of the 100-year anniversary, the planning committee is creating a series of banners highlighting women in all areas of medicine and science during the past century. Bia and Jonas are also working on increasing faculty engagement through such departmental activities as an Internal Medicine Grand Rounds on May 17 that will be devoted to the history of women in the department. They are heartened by the enthusiastic response to the 100 Years of Women at YSM celebration and hope the momentum continues through artwork, exhibits, and other activities that promote women. “I hope it doesn’t end on June first,” says Bia.

The symposium is open to all faculty, students, staff, alumnae/alumni, and clinicians in the community. To learn more and to register, visit