Born in Colorado Territory on 09 November 1871, Florence Rena Sabin became the first woman faculty member at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1902; she taught embryology and histology. In the year 1917, at age 46, Sabin became the first woman named full professor at any medical college in the country.
On 29 April 1925, Sabin was the first woman elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS). She would be the only female member for the following 20 years.
Founded by an act of Congress on 03 March 1863, the NAS is a “private, nongovernmental institution [organized] to advise the nation on issues related to science and technology.” In 2021, 59 of its 120 newly-elected members were women. However, only about a fifth of its 2,461 members are women. Although it’s been almost 100 years since Sabin became an NAS member, no woman has served as its president.
In 2019, slightly more than half (50.5%) of the students enrolled in US medical schools were women. Women constituted only 36.3% of the physician workforce, however. In medical schools, women were 41% of the faculty; however, they were the majority at the (lower) instructor rank. Fewer than 1-in-5 department chairs were women.
We’ve not come a long way, baby.
In 1893, Sabin graduated from Smith College where she had majored in zoology. In 1896, Sabin entered the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, one of 14 women in a class of 45. She would be the “first woman to graduate from that institution.”
Founded in 1893, the School of Medicine “was co-ed from the beginning because of an early donor’s contingency that required the admittance of female students.”
Sabin became associate professor in 1905 and full professor in 1917. In 1925, Sabin left Johns Hopkins to become the first female physician-scientist at the Rockefeller Institute. She was the department head at the Department of Cellular Studies for Medical Research where she focused her research on tuberculosis.
In 1944 at age 73, Colorado Gov. John Vivian named her chair of a state subcommittee on health care.
Colorado’s health policies and practices were among the worst in the nation at the time. She declared war on “flies, rats, and dirty milk”. Her work resulted in the “Sabin Health Laws”, which modernized every aspect of healthcare in Colorado, including sanitation standards, enforcement of communicable disease laws, and the creation of better health programs for children.