Fearless Females: Estelle Massey Osborne

In honor of Nurses Week (May 6-12), this month we’ll learn the amazing story of Estelle Massey Osborne, who fought against racial discrimination in nursing. The Rory Meyers College of Nursing at NYU says of her: “Few Americans helped to change the face of nursing in the 20th-century more than Estelle Massey Osborne.”

Estelle Massey was born on May 3, 1901, to Hall and Bettye Estelle Massey in Palestine, Texas. Her parents were uneducated and worked menial jobs, but they wanted a better life for their children so they saved up and managed to send all 11 of them to college.

Estelle received her teaching certification from Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M University). She taught for a while, but after being badly injured in a violent incident at a school where she was teaching, she decided to become a nurse. Estelle joined the first nursing class of St. Louis City Hospital #2 (later Homer G. Phillips Hospital), where she developed a passion for obstetrics. She graduated in 1923 and worked there as head nurse for three years.

In 1926 or 1927 she moved to New York City to teach at the Lincoln School of Nursing and the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing, where she was the first Black instructor. She attended summer sessions at Teachers College of Columbia University. Then, in 1928, she received a scholarship from the Julius Rosenwald Fund—the first Black nurse ever awarded one—which enabled her to study full time. She received a bachelor’s degree in 1930, and a master’s in nursing education in 1931, the first Black nurse to do so.

The following year, she married Dr. Bedford N. Riddle, but they later divorced. In 1934 she worked as a researcher for the Rosenwald Fund, studying rural life in the deep South and trying to determine how to better enable people there to access health care services. Later the same year, Estelle became president of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses where she created strong relationships with the American Nurses Association (ANA), National League for Nursing, and National Organization for Public Health Nursing. With the bonds she formed, Estelle successfully lobbied to get these organizations to allow Black nurses and worked to improve post-graduation opportunities for Black nurses. By the time she left five years later, the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses’ membership had increased five-fold to nearly 950 nurses.

In 1940, Estelle returned to St. Louis and the Homer G. Phillips Hospital to become its first Black female director of nursing. When the U.S. entered WWII, she took up the cause, even though the Army and Navy both banned Black nurses. In 1943 she was appointed as a consultant to the National Nursing Council for War Service, where she acted as a liaison to nursing schools by recruiting desperately-needed student and graduate nurses. She also used this position to change discriminatory policies at nursing schools and in the military. Within two years, thanks to Estelle’s efforts, 20 more nursing schools admitted Black students, the Cadet Nurse Corps had inducted 2,000 Black members, and the Army and Navy both welcomed Black nurses.

In 1945, Estelle became the first Black instructor at New York University’s Department of Nursing Education. The following year, she received the Mary Mahoney Award from the ANA for her efforts to help Black nurses become integrated within the broader nursing community. In 1947, she married again, this time to Herman Osborne.

In addition to teaching nursing as the first Black faculty member at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, she led many nursing associations, trying to increase Black membership and bridge the divide between white and Black associations. In 1948, she became the first Black member of the ANA board, where she served as a delegate to the International Council of Nurses. Estelle was also a member of the National Urban League, first vice-president of the National Council of Negro Women, and an honorary member of Chi Eta Phi Sorority and the American Academy of Nursing.

In 1954 she became Associate Professor of Nursing Education at the University of Maryland and five years later, the NYU Department of Nursing named Estelle “Nurse of the Year.” In 1966, she left her executive role at the National League for Nursing to retire.

Estelle died on December 12, 1981, at the age of 80. In 1984, the ANA inducted her into their Hall of Fame. Two scholarships bearing her name are given out annually by NYU Meyers and the Nurses Educational Fund.

Fearless Females: Susan Elizabeth Tracy and Eleanor Clark

Eleanor Clark Slagle

Well, I totally forgot to post this in April. At least I’m only two days late…

April is National Occupational Therapy Month.

There is an old saying that goes something like, “if you want something done right, ask a woman.” That is exactly how occupational therapy (OT) got its start. In the early 1900s, two women, nurse Susan Elizabeth Tracy and social worker Eleanor Clark Slagle changed how OT would be viewed forever.

OT has its roots in treating mental illness in the 18th and 19th centuries. It became a new field of study under Dr. Benjamin Rush of Baltimore around the turn of the 20th century, as he explored how doing occupational activities might help patients heal by keeping them busy. In 1917 he co-founded the National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy and authored one of the first textbooks on the subject Occupational Therapy: A Manual for Nurses in 1918. Because of this, he is often called “the father of occupational therapy.”

However, two women actually beat him to the punch.

Susan E. Tracy
Susan E. Tracy actually wrote the first American book on OT, Studies in Invalid Occupations, in 1910, eight years before Dr. Rush, and is credited with performing the “first systemic studies on occupational therapy.”

Little is known about her life and no photos of her exist. She was born in 1864 or 1878 to a family of teachers. She studied nursing in Massachusetts and after graduation in 1898, she went to work as a nurse at Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago, where she established an OT department and began teaching OT to nurses. In 1906, she gave a series of lectures at the Adams-Nervine Asylum in Boston. Sometime before 1912, she became an administrator at a nursing school. In 1912, she opened an OT practice, where she also taught nurses and focused on using OT to help disabled soldiers wounded in WWI. Elizabeth is recognized as one of the founders of The American Occupational Therapy Association. She died in 1928 in Massachusetts.

Eleanor Clark Slagle
Eleanor May Clark was born on October 13, 1870, to William John and Emeline Clark in Hobart, New York. Little is known of her childhood other than she went by the name Ella May Clark. She married Robert E. Slagle in Chicago, but the two later divorced.

Her education is also fuzzy. Eleanor attended Claverack College in Columbia City, New York, but it is unclear if she graduated or left school to get married. By her late 30s, she worked with the mentally ill at Hull House in Chicago. In 1911, she attended a course at the UC Chicago School for Civics and Philanthropy that “taught occupations and amusements to staff working at state institutions.” From 1912-1914, she was director of the department of occupational therapy at the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1914, Eleanor resigned and returned to Chicago, where she gave lectures at the Chicago School for Civics and Philanthropy and taught OT at Hull House. In 1915, she created the first organized OT training program at the Henry B. Favill School of Occupations in Chicago which helped the emerging field become recognized as legitimate by the medical profession.

In 1917, Eleanor became general superintendent of occupational therapy for all of the Illinois state hospitals and was a founding member of the National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy. She was part of this organization until 1937, serving as secretary-treasurer, vice president and president (1919-1920) and founding its headquarters in New York City in 1922.

Eleanor spent the next 20 years promoting OT as director at the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene. Encyclopedia Britannica credits her with “demonstrat[ing] the first large-scale occupational therapy program for a state hospital system and also found[ing] an annual training institute for state therapists that became a model for similar programs throughout the United States.” During her career, she trained over 4,000 nurses in OT.

Eleanor died of heart issues on September 18, 1942, in New York and is rightfully called “the mother of occupational therapy,” standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Dr. Benjamin Rush.

Fearless Females: Dr. Gladys West

Next time you fire up Google Maps or ask your GPS how to get somewhere, say a word of thanks to Dr. Gladys West. Without her, we’d all still be using paper maps to find our way around.

Gladys Brown was born in Sutherland, Virginia, in 1930 to Nolan and Macy Brown, field and tobacco factory workers in a rural town populated mostly by sharecroppers. From an early age she understood that if she wanted to do more than work the land for the rest of her life, she’d have to study hard in school. She attended a small red, one-room school house where seven years of Black students were all taught together. She quickly showed unusual aptitude and her parents, wanting a better life for her, began saving money to send her to college.

But as happens to so many people, unexpected bills kept depleting their savings and Gladys quickly realized she would have to pay her own way. Like her parents, she tried to save, but it was slow going. Luckily, the state of Virginia announced plans to give college scholarships to the two top students from her year. Gladys buckled down and she succeeded in becoming Valedictorian of her high school class and earning one of the two full scholarships.

She chose to attend Virginia State College (now University), a historically Black university and majored in math because it was a respectable subject. To pay for room and board (which the scholarship didn’t cover), she took a part time job babysitting for one of her math teachers. In 1952, she graduated with her bachelor’s in mathematics and began teaching. A few years later, Gladys attended Virginia State, where she earned a master’s in mathematics in 1955.

After graduation, she was offered a job as a computer programmer and coder at Naval Proving Ground (now Naval Surface Warfare Center) in Dahlgren, Virginia, in 1956. According to The Guardian, “this made her only the second Black woman to be hired to work as a programmer at the base. And she was one of only four Black employees.” This was during the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, and while she and her soon-to-be husband Ira West (they married in 1957) kept an eye on the goings on, they were barred from participating due to their government work.

So, just like in school, Gladys decided to form her own kind of rebellion by being the best worker she could and showing what Black people are capable of. One of her first major projects was the Naval Ordinance Research Calculator, an award-winning program using hundreds of hours of computer calculations, which often had to be double-checked for errors by hand, to calculate the regularity of Pluto’s motion relative to Neptune. Gladys quickly rose through the ranks, receiving commendations for her hard work and becoming project manager for the Seasat radar altimetry project, the first satellite that could monitor the oceans. At the same time, she took night classes and earned her master’s in public administration from the University of Oklahoma in 1973.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, from this “work on Seasat came GEOSAT, a satellite programmed to create computer models of Earth’s surface. By teaching a computer to account for gravity, tides, and other forces that act on Earth’s surface, West and her team created a program that could precisely calculate the orbits of satellites.” This laid the groundwork for the development of the Global Positioning System (GPS). Because of her skill in calculating complex mathematical equations, she also worked on other measurements that contributed to the accuracy of GPS.

In 1998 at age 68, Gladys was contemplating retirement when a sudden stroke forced her to stop working. However, she didn’t let that get in the way of her studies for her PhD in public administration and policy affairs, which she was awarded by Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 2000 at the age of 70. Dr. West, now 91, is still alive today and participates in activities at the Dahlgren Protestant Chapel, with Gideons International and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and along with her husband, regularly mentors young people. In 2020, Dr. West released her memoir, “It Began with A Dream.”

Her story may have gone unknown if it wasn’t for a short biography she sent to her former sorority and a 2018 Associated Press profile, which kicked off interview requests from around the world. That same year, Gladys was inducted into the U.S. Air Force Hall of Fame, the only Black woman to be so honored. She has also been inducted into the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame, named one of the top 100 Women by the British Broadcasting Corporation, was a Dominion Energy Strong Men & Women recipient and has had a Senate Resolution honoring her accomplishments.

Fearless Females: Mary Katherine Goddard

Did you know that a woman signed the Declaration of Independence? Yes, you read that right. Mary Katherine Goddard’s name appears beneath those of our Founding Fathers.


Mary Katherine was born in New London, Connecticut, on June 16, 1738, to Dr. Giles Goddard, a physician and postmaster, and Sarah Updike Goddard. Mary Katherine was one of only two of their four children to live to adulthood. (No photos of her remain, but there is one that is often wrongly identified as her.)

Her mother tutored her in reading and math and then she attended New London’s public school, which taught girls for one hour a day when the boys’ lessons were over. There she learned Latin, French and science.

In 1755, Giles Goddard fell ill and was too sick to work, so her brother, William (then 15), went to New Haven to serve as a printer’s apprentice. Seven years later, Giles died and Mary Kathrine and her mother joined William in New Haven, where he owned a printing shop. Not long after, they founded Rhode Island’s first newspaper, the Providence Gazette.

William, always seeking a new adventure, moved from Providence to Philadelphia to Baltimore—starting newspapers in each city and leaving his mother and sister in charge each time he moved on. In 1768, Mary Katherine moved to Philadelphia with her mother. Two years later, Sarah died and William, who was in a fight with his financial partners, gave the Pennsylvania Chronicle to her. It was one of the largest printing shops in the colonies.

From 1771 – 1775, while William languished in debtor’s prison, Mary Katherine kept his businesses afloat. As he had done so many times before, in February 1774, William gave Mary Katherine control of the Maryland Journal, Baltimore’s first newspaper. William then concentrated his efforts on building a private postal service (one untouched by British rule that later became the U.S. Postal Service) and the masthead of the Maryland Journal was quietly changed to read “Published by M. K. Goddard.”

This was on the eve of the Revolution. By June 1774, most of the news on her front page was of Britain’s blockade of Boston Harbor. From then on, Mary Katherine’s paper became a tool of the Revolution, publishing Thomas Payne’s Common Sense in two parts, reporting on the first battles of the war and encouraging women to boycott British goods by growing their own flax and wool for clothing.

In July 1775, the Continental Congress approved William Goddard’s postal system and three months later named Mary Katherine Baltimore’s postmaster. This made her, in the words of the National Parks Service, “the first postmaster of Baltimore, the first female postmaster in the colonies, and eventually the first female postmaster in the United States.” According to the Smithsonian, it also “likely made her the United States’ only female employee when the nation was born in July 1776.”

Already familiar with her work and convened only blocks from her shop, Congress asked Mary Katherine to print the second version of the United States Declaration of Independence on Jan. 18, 1777, the first to bear the names of the signatories. At the bottom, it reads: “Baltimore, in Maryland; Printed by Mary Katherine Goddard.” According to the National Park Service, by using her full name instead of M.K. Goddard as she had on her newspapers, she “risked her life and her livelihood” in the event that the British government decided to charge her with treason.

Mary Katherine so excelled in her work that by 1779, the Maryland Journal had “as extensive a circulation as any newspaper in the United States.” Nonetheless, in 1784, William fired Mary Katherine from the Maryland Journal and took over as publisher. The reason is unknown, but it could have something to do with an incident years before when she refused to give up the name of a source for a controversial newspaper story and told the inquirers to talk to her brother, who was nearly banished from the United States because of it. Whatever the cause, the siblings never spoke again.

Mary Katherine remained Baltimore’s postmaster until October 1789 when newly appointed postmaster general Samuel Osgood replaced her with John White of Annapolis. The move was likely done for political reasons, as White was friends with Osgood, but most people took it as a sign of sexism. The official story was that because “supervision of nearby post offices was being added to the job description, more travelling might be necessary than a woman could undertake.”

The residents of Baltimore were outraged, with more than 200 demanding her reinstatement. Mary Katherine even wrote to George Washington and the Senate to try to get her job back. Washington refused to do anything and the Senate never responded, so Mary Katherine spent the rest of her life running a dry goods store and a bookstore.

When she died at the age of 78 in 1816, she freed her slave, Belinda Starling, “to recompense the faithful performance of duties to me,” and never having married or had children, left all of her worldly goods to her former slave.

Fearless Females: Dr. Patricia Bath

This was supposed to be posted in December. Whoopsie.

Dr. Patricia Bath was a woman of many firsts:

  • The first Black person to complete a residency in ophthalmology.
  • The first female faculty member and first female chair in the Department of Ophthalmology at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute.
  • The first Black female doctor to receive a medical patent.
  • Founder of the field of “community ophthalmology.”

Born in Harlem, New York, on Nov. 4, 1942, there was little about Patricia Bath’s early life to portend her future greatness. Her father, Rupert, was an immigrant from Trinidad and the first Black subway motorman in New York City, and her mother, Gladys, who was descendant from both the Cherokee Tribe and African slaves, was a domestic worker.

Despite their humble circumstances, the Baths encouraged their daughter’s natural curiosity and intelligence, which later proved to be early signs of genius. When, inspired by newspaper articles on Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s work with lepers in Africa, she expressed an interest in medicine, her mother bought her a chemistry set. Her father stoked her wanderlust through stories of his time in the Merchant Marines.

Patricia flourished in school. At the age of 16, she was one of a handful of students to attend a National Science Foundation cancer research workshop. In just three months of study on the effects of streptomycin residue on bacteria, she discovered that cancer was a catabolic disease and tumor growth was a symptom. She also calculated an equation to predict cancer cell growth. Her discoveries were so impressive that Dr. Robert Bernard, head of the program, included her findings in a scientific paper he presented at a conference. As a result, she made the front page of the New York Times and won the Mademoiselle magazine Merit Award in 1960.

Patricia graduated high school in two years and went on to Hunter College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1964. Having decided to devote her life to medicine, she then attended Howard University and she graduated with honors in 1968. After an internship at Harlem Hospital—where she convinced her professors to perform eye surgery on blind patients for free—she completed a fellowship in ophthalmology at Columbia University.

In 1973, Dr. Bath became the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology. Now married with a daughter, she completed a second fellowship in corneal transplantation and keratoprosthesis (replacing a human cornea with an artificial one).

By contrasting her patient’s experiences at the mostly Black, lower income Harlem Hospital and the mostly white, wealthier Columbia University, Dr. Bath found that Black people were twice as likely to suffer from blindness than other patients and eight times more likely to develop glaucoma.

Concerned and knowing that many Black people could not afford treatment for such conditions, she developed “community ophthalmology.” This new specialty focused on helping underserved populations by using volunteers trained in basic eye screenings and tests who went to senior centers and daycares to test vision.

Dr. Bath moved to California in 1974 to work as an assistant professor of surgery at both Charles R. Drew University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). In 1975, she became the first female faculty member in the Department of Ophthalmology at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute. With this honor came an office “in the basement next to the lab animals,” which she refused to use. “I didn’t say it was racist or sexist,” she explained. “I said it was inappropriate and succeeded in getting acceptable office space. I decided I was just going to [ignore the hate and] do my work.” Much of her research was conducted in places like Berlin, Paris and Loughborough, England, where her race and sex didn’t matter.

In 1976, Dr. Bath co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, which established that “eyesight is a basic human right.” Likely remembering her well-traveled father, she lectured and performed surgery all over the world as part of this program, trying to bridge the gap between care provided in industrial and developing nations.

In 1981, she began working on her most well-known invention: the Laserphaco Probe. Using a laser, the device created a less painful and more precise treatment of cataracts that removed the cataract more easily and made it easier to insert a new lens. She received a patent for the device in 1988, becoming the first Black female doctor to receive a U.S. patent for a medical purpose. She also holds patents in Japan, Canada and Europe. Using this device, she was able to help people see who had been blind for more than 30 years.

In 1983, while working on her laser, Dr. Bath helped create the Ophthalmology Residency Training program at UCLA-Drew, which she also chaired—the first woman in the country to do so.

Dr. Bath retired from her position at the UCLA Medical Center in 1993. That same year, she was named a “Howard University Pioneer in Academic Medicine.”

Dr. Bath was an early advocate of telemedicine, the use of technology to provide medical services in remote areas. She went on to hold positions in telemedicine at Howard University and St. George’s University in Grenada.

Patricia died on May 30, 2019, from complications related to cancer at the age of 76.

Fearless Females: Dr. Mary Edwards Walker

Dr. Walker wearing her medal.

In 245 years of American History, only one woman has ever received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the government’s highest and most prestigious military honor, and she did it back on Nov. 11, 1865. Meet woman of many trades – doctor, spy, abolitionist, P.O.W. – Dr. Mary Edwards Walker.

Mary Edwards was born Nov. 26, 1832, in Oswego, New York, to abolitionists Alvah and Vesta Whitcomb Walker. From a young age, they encouraged Mary to think for herself and allowed her to ditch the corsets and skirts expected of women in favor of “bloomers” (a dress combined with short pants), which would later lead her into the dress reform movement, which advocated for more reasonable and comfortable clothes for women.

Her parents believed that both boys and girls should be educated equally, so they started the first free school in Oswego, New York, to ensure their five daughters would learn the same things as their son. After that, Mary and two of her older sisters went to Falley Seminary in Fulton, New York. Mary never did stop wearing men’s clothes, as she felt they were more comfortable and hygienic.

Although Mary studied teaching, her real ambition was to become a doctor, something few women at the time dared contemplate, much less attempt. For her, teaching was a way to earn money for medical school. She attended Syracuse Medical College and received her medical degree in 1855—she was the second woman to graduate from the college, after Elizabeth Blackwell, whom we profiled in February.

Not long after graduation, Mary married fellow medical school student Albert Miller in a ceremony just as unconventional as fellow suffragist Lucy Stone’s. She refused to include “obey” in her wedding vows, kept her maiden name, and wore a short skirt and trousers instead of a traditional wedding dress. Husband and wife started their own medical practice in Rome, New York. Unfortunately, it was a complete failure because people did not trust a female doctor. The couple later divorced.

Her gender worked against her during the Civil War as well, when she was denied a post as a medical officer because she was a woman. Undeterred, Mary decided to volunteer as a surgeon at the U.S. Patent Office Hospital in Washington, but she was only allowed to be a nurse, not a surgeon. During her time there, she wore only trousers and shirts because they made her work easier. She also organized the Women’s Relief Organization to help families of the wounded.

In 1862, Mary moved to Virginia and started treating wounded soldiers near the front lines. She also wrote to the War Department in September of that year requesting to become a spy, but she was rejected. However, in 1863 her request to practice as a surgeon was finally accepted. She became the first female U.S. Army surgeon as a “Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon (civilian)” in Ohio.

Because she cared for all, Mary often crossed over Union and Confederate lines. In an ironic twist of fate, she was arrested in April 1864 by Confederate soldiers as a spy, the very occupation denied to her by the government. For the next four months, she was held as a prisoner of war in the notoriously brutal Castle Thunder outside of Richmond, Virginia, all the while refusing to wear the dresses provided to her. Later, when she was arrested in New Orleans for being dressed like a man, she famously said, “I don’t wear men’s clothes, I wear my own clothes.” She was eventually released as part of a prisoner exchange.

After the Civil War, Mary was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor for Meritorious Service by President Andrew Johnson for her time as a P.O.W, the result of which was partial muscular atrophy that qualified her for disability. She became a suffragist and even attempted to register to vote in 1871 under the popular suffragist philosophy that the Fourteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote but was turned away. Inspired by other women in politics like Victoria Woodhull, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Belva Lockwood, she ran for the U.S. Senate in 1881 and for Congress in 1890, both of which she lost.

In 1916, Mary’s Medal of Honor was revoked after the government decided she wasn’t really eligible, but she continued to wear it until her death in 1919 at the age of 86. She was buried wearing a black suit, still refusing in death to wear a dress. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter legally restored Mary’s Medal of Honor.

Mary told the world what she wished to be remembered for in 1897: “I am the original new woman…Before Lucy Stone, Mrs. [Amelia] Bloomer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were, I am. In the early ’40’s, when they began their work in dress reform, I was already wearing pants…I have made it possible for the bicycle girl to wear the abbreviated skirt, and I have prepared the way for the girl in knickerbockers.”

Fearless Females: Sarah Hackett Stevenson

September is the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Women in Medicine Month, which celebrates the accomplishments of, and showcases advocacy for, female physicians, while also highlighting health issues impacting female patients.

Did you know that the AMA, which was founded in 1874, didn’t have its first female president until 1998? It didn’t even have any female leaders until 1969, when Louise C. Gloeckner became vice president. That’s nearly 100 years after today’s subject, Sarah Hackett Stevenson, became the first woman to join the AMA.

Early Life
Sarah was born in the small town of Buffalo Grove, (now Polo), in northwestern Illinois, which her father helped found. As a young woman, she attended Mount Carroll Seminary and State Normal College, in Bloomington, Illinois, and graduated with honors as a teacher. After several years of teaching and serving as a principal in public schools in Bloomington, Mount Morris and Sterling, Illinois, she moved to Chicago to study anatomy and physiology at Woman’s Hospital Medical College as one of its earliest students.

During her course of study, Sarah spent a year in England at South Kensington Science School in London learning from famed biologists Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley. After returning to America, she graduated from the medical college with the highest honors in 1874, becoming one of Illinois’ first female physicians. She went back to Europe to continue her studies under Huxley and Darwin at hospitals in London and Dublin. During this time, she was appointed by Illinois Governor John Beveridg as a delegate to the International Sanitary Conference in Vienna, which was the fourth of 14 conferences organized to standardize international quarantine regulations against the spread of cholera, plague and yellow fever.

Medical Career
Back once again in the United States, Sarah began her medical career as physiology chair at the Woman’s Hospital Medical College in Chicago, a role she held for five years. In 1875 she was elected as a member of the Illinois State Medical Society and appointed head of the Illinois State Medical Society’s committee on progress in physiology. The following year, she was named an alternate delegate to the AMA convention in Philadelphia, becoming a full delegate and the organization’s first female member when the original male delegate was unable to attend. She appears to have met with surprisingly little resistance and even boldly listed her full name on the official delegate roster instead of using first and middle initials like many of her male colleagues.

She served as a delegate again three more times and in 1878, was chair of an AMA special committee for advancing physical sciences. In 1879, she presented a paper on the sympathetic nervous system. Sarah was also the first woman appointed on the State Board of Health and the first woman to be on staff at the Cook County Hospital. She wrote several books, including the well-known The Physiology of Woman.

Sometime in 1880, Sarah resigned from her position at Woman’s Medical College because she believed that men and women should be taught together, rather than segregated by gender. She wrote, “I hope that men and women will be educated in one institution–educated as physicians without any regard to the sex question at all. It seems to me, if we be physicians, that the first necessity is equality of opportunity, and that is all the woman physician asks.”

Advocacy for Women
Sarah was also actively involved in the temperance movement, serving as the first superintendent of the Department of Hygiene of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) from 1881-1882. In 1886, the Chicago WCTU organized the National Temperance Hospital (later renamed the Frances Willard Hospital) with the express purpose of providing care without using medicines containing alcohol, and Sarah served as staff president.

Sarah was also a passionate advocate for women’s rights. Her writings on the plight of women in late 19th century Chicago are available online. But she didn’t only write about injustice; she acted to end it. In 1880 she co-founded the Illinois Training School for Nurses, along with Lucy Flower. In 1893, Sarah proposed to the Chicago Woman’s Club to create a safe home for women and children who did not have money but needed shelter. Her proposal was accepted and funded by donations as the Woman’s Model Lodging House. Those who could pay were charged 15 cents/night, but women who could not worked instead. She also spoke in support of admission of a black member to the Chicago Woman’s Club, of which she was president.

Sarah retired in 1903 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage that left her paralyzed and bedridden. She died in 1909 at the age of 68.

Fearless Females: The First Black Woman to Receive a U.S. Patent

Did you know there is a bit of a debate over who was the first Black woman to receive a U.S. patent? Judy Woodford Reed, Sarah E. Goode, and Miriam Benjamin are all credited with that feat, though there may have been others before them who did not reveal their race or gender. Learn more about each of these women below.

Judy Woodford Reed

The debate begins with Judy Woodford Reed (1826-1905). She was issued patent 305,474 for a “dough kneader and roller” on September 23, 1884. Her invention was for “improved design of rollers that helped the dough to mix more evenly while it was kept covered and protected.”

The patent is the only documentation that exists of her life. Historians have been able to piece together her birth and death dates, but little else is known about her—not even a photo remains. Judy was a former slave who likely could not read or write, as she signed the patent with an X instead of her name. Her attorney wrote her name on the patent for her, using her initials, J.W. Reed. And this is where the controversy comes in. Because Judy didn’t actually sign the patent with her name, some wonder if it was technically fully executed.

Sarah E. Goode

Those who follow the line of thought that Judy Woodford Reed’s patent wasn’t fully executed, credit Sarah E. Goode with being the first Black woman to receive a U.S. patent. She was issued a patent (322,177) for the cabinet bed on July 14, 1885, which was a pre-cursor to the better-known Murphy Bed.

Sarah was born into slavery in 1855 in Toledo, Ohio, and was described as being of mixed White and Black ancestry. She was granted her freedom at age 10 when the Civil War ended.

Sara was the daughter of a carpenter who married a “stair builder.” Later in life, she sold furniture in Chicago. Her invention came about when she heard customers from New York mention that space was at a premium in the city thanks to new laws that limited the height of buildings. That meant most tenements were only around 25×100 feet in size. Sarah’s creativity resulted in a fold out bed that when retracted, looked and functioned like a roll-top desk complete with compartments for storing pens, ink and stationery.

Miriam Benjamin

Though only a few sources credit Miriam Benjamin (1861-1947) with being the first, she is widely held to be the second (or perhaps third) Black woman to be granted a patent. She was born in Charleston, South Carolina, as a free Black woman. Miriam attended high school in Boston and eventually became a teacher in Washington D.C. before attending law school at Howard University and becoming a “solicitor of patents.”

Her first patent was for the gong and signal chair for hotels. As a frequent traveler, Miriam noticed that many hotels and restaurants seemed overstaffed for the number of customers needing service at any moment. This resulted in her devising a chair with a gong and signal attached meant to “reduce the expenses of hotels by decreasing the number of waiters and attendants, to add to the convenience and comfort of guests and to obviate the necessity of hand clapping or calling aloud to obtain the services of pages.” To summon a server or other attendant, a patron would press a button on the back of the chair, which would send a signal to the server as well as illuminate a light so the server could see which guest needed help.

Later on, Miriam’s system was adopted by the United States House of Representatives to summon pages and was the precursor to flight attendant call buttons in airplanes.

Miriam went on to patent other inventions and is believed to be one in the same with composer E.B. Miriam who wrote marches, including “The Boston Elite Two Step” and “The American Bugle Call,” which was adopted as the campaign song for Theodore Roosevelt’s 1904 presidential campaign.

Fearless Females: Sally Ride

With the release of Consequences and the Historical Novel Society Conference, June almost got away from me without our monthly column on women in history. But luckily I was working on next month’s and realized it.

This month we’re looking at a woman whom I remember from my childhood. (Can you believe 35 years ago is the definition of historical in the publishing industry? I feel so old!) 

Did you know that the United States Mint is honoring 20 women on U.S. quarters over the next few years? One of the first two is Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, who earned this designation on June 18, 1983, (the other is poet Mya Angelou).

Sally Kristen Ride was born May 26, 1951, in Los Angeles. As a young woman, she was interested in science, but put that on the back-burner to focus on her tennis career. Despite being a nationally-ranked player, Sally eventually returned to science, studying physics and English at Stanford, where she earned her bachelors in 1973, masters in 1975 and her doctorate in 1978. She specialized in astrophysics and free electron lasers.

After she graduated, Sally was one of only 35 people (and six women) selected out of 8,000 applications to participate in NASA Astronaut Group 8, the first NASA selection in more than a decade. It was the first group to include women and people of color.

She trained for a year and then became a ground-based capsule communicator (CapCom) for NASA’s second and third space shuttle flights and helped develop the Space Shuttle’s “Canadarm” robot arm.

On June 18, 1983, at 32, she became the youngest woman ever in space and only the third ever (behind USSR cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982). She is also the first known LGBTQIA+ astronaut. Before her first flight, the media expressed reservations about women in space, asking her questions about her emotional capability to withstand the journey and if she worried about how space would affect her ability to have children. Sally ignored them all and said she didn’t think of herself as a female astronaut, but simply as an astronaut.

On her first flight, Sally’s job was to work the robotic arm that helped place satellites in space for Canada and Indonesia. This was the first successful deployment and retrieval in space. On her second space flight in October 1984, she used the shuttle’s robotic arm to remove ice from the shuttle’s exterior and to readjust a radar antenna. Sally was assigned to a third shuttle mission, but her crew’s training was cut short by the Challenger disaster in January 1986.

Sally left NASA in 1987. She worked for two years at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Arms Control, then at the University of California, San Diego, researching nonlinear optics and Thomson scattering.

During this time, she started looking for ways to help women and girls who wanted to study science and mathematics. She came up with the idea for NASA’s EarthKAM project, which lets middle school students take pictures of Earth using a camera on the International Space Station. Students then study the pictures. She also wrote or co-wrote seven books on space for children to encourage them to study science.

Sally served on the committees that investigated the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle disasters, the only person to participate in both. Sally provided key information about how O-rings get stiff at low temperatures, which led to them being identified as the cause of the Challenger explosion.

In 2003, Sally was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame. Sally died on July 23, 2012, at the age of 61 after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. She was honored with many awards after her death, including being featured on a U.S. postage stamp.