Throughout history, women have played a vital role in advancing medical knowledge and helping to transform the way we view our health and the impact of disease on the human body.
One of the many areas where women have made a significant impact is in the field of reproductive health. Historically, women have been at the forefront of advocating for improved access to reproductive services, often risking their own lives and facing societal backlash to advocate for reproductive health care for women.
Their contributions have not only improved the lives of women but have also helped to advance the overall understanding of human biology and health. So, in honor of Women’s History Month, we’d like to highlight 5 incredible women who have contributed to the cause of women’s reproductive health and rights.
Metrodora was a physician who lived in Greece during the 3rd century B.C. She was said to be influenced by the Hippocratic Corpus, a collection of about 60 early ancient Greek medical works that were associated with the physician Hippocrates.
Metrodora built on the knowledge in Hippocrates’s work and her own experience to write her 2-volume, 63-chapter book, On the Diseases and Cures of Women, which served as a foundational text for doctors in ancient Greece, Rome and Medieval Europe and played a significant role in medicine’s general development for centuries.
Metrodora is also credited with introducing physicians to gynecological exams and treating sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which would later become the foundation for modern gynecology.
2. Mary Putnam Jacobi, MD
Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi (1842-1906) was a physician who debunked some of her era’s most common menstruation myths.
She graduated from the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1964 and was the first woman to study at the New York Academy of Medicine.
Dr. Jacobi advocated for better medical education for women and created the Association for the Advancement of the Medical Education of Women in 1872 to address the inequality in medical education opportunities between men and women.
One of her most substantial achievements, however, was debunking common myths about menstruation, including the idea that physical activity during menstruation was dangerous. Her paper debunking these myths even earned her Harvard’s coveted Boylston Prize.
3. Sara Josephine Baker
Dr. Sara Josephine Baker (1873-1945) was a pioneer in reducing the infant mortality rate in low-income parts of New York City.
At the beginning of the 20th century, about a third of the city’s infants were dying before the age of 5, many of them in tenement neighborhoods, which were packed with thousands of people within a square mile. A majority of the deaths experienced in those neighborhoods could have been prevented with education and proper inspections from the health department.
Dr. Baker was appointed as the director of the Bureau of Child Hygiene in 1908 to correct these problems. She focused on the poorest neighborhoods, sending nurses, educating mothers on hygiene, and setting up clean milk stations.
Her efforts helped reduce the child mortality rate by a considerable degree, with some estimating that she may have saved as many as 90,000 infants during her 30-year career.
4. Virginia Apgar
source: Human Progress https://www.youtube.com/@HumanProgressOrg
Dr. Virginia Apgar (1909-1974) developed a test in 1953 that bears her name, which assesses a newborn’s initial health and the need for further observation. Because of the Apgar score, doctors and nurses finally had an effective tool to predict whether life-saving interventions were necessary right after delivery.
Before Dr. Apgar developed her checklist to identify potential issues in an infant’s health immediately after birth, many newborns were needlessly dying within their first few hours of life.
Dr. Apgar also went to work for the March of Dimes when she was in her 50s, where her advocacy helped raise awareness of how to prevent congenital disabilities.
5. Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner (1912-2006) was an inventor whose many products are still used today. Her first patented invention, the sanitary belt, was the most famous of her creations.
This belt, which was officially patented in 1957, was an improvement on designs that Kenner began devising as early as the 1920s before she could afford money for the patent. The primary goal was to prevent menstrual blood from causing leakage and stains.
Sadly, Kenner faced opposition to having her sanitary belt marketed and sold at the time because she was Black. However, her invention helped form the foundations for sanitary products today.
Contact All About Women Obstetrics & Gynecology
Thanks to the contributions of all of these women (and many more), the medical community today has a much better understanding of women’s reproductive health.
At All About Women Obstetrics & Gynecology, our experienced OB-GYNs have been helping women in Gainesville and Lake City care for their reproductive and gynecological health for more than 20 years. Our patient-centered practice is focused on combining compassionate care with state-of-the-art medicine to provide patients with the full spectrum of care and treatment options.