Friday, November 9, 2012

Florence Sabin

Born this day in 1871: Florence Sabin (1871–1953), anatomist, research scientist, first woman elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and public health pioneer

Sabin at her desk at Johns Hopkins

Florence Sabin was born in Central City, Colorado, and into a family that believed in educating girls. She attended Smith College, graduating in 1893. She taught for a few years to earn tuition money for Johns Hopkins University Medical School, which recently began admitting women.  She entered Johns Hopkins in 1896 and quickly demonstrated her skill at laboratory work. She published her first medical paper (“On the Anatomical relations of the Nuclei of Reception of the Cochlear and Vestibular Nerves”) while a student. Working under an anatomy fellowship in 1901 she published An Atlas of the Medulla and Midbrain, which was quickly adopted as a standard medical text.
Johns Hopkins policy barred women from joining the faculty, so Sabin continued her anatomical research with funds provided by the Baltimore Association for the Advancement of University Education of Women. In 1903 the school revised its policy and hired Sabin as its first woman faculty member. She was made associate professor in 1905. She became a full professor of histology in 1917 and the first woman full professor at Johns Hopkins.
Sabin’s research included the lymphatic system, histology, embryology, and the pathology and immunology of tuberculosis. Her various discoveries earned her a reputation as a leading scientist. In 1924 she  was elected president of the American Association of Anatomists—the first woman to hold that position. The following year she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the first woman to be granted membership.
Florence Sabin statue, National Statuary Hall
Sabin achieved another first in 1925, when she she became the first woman to join the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (now Rockefeller University).  She stayed with the institute until 1938 as the head of  the Department of Cellular Studies. She then retired to her native Colorado.
She was lured out of retirement in 1944, when the governor appointed her to head a subcommittee on public health. She completely reorganized Colorado’s state health department, and was appointed its head in 1948. The Sabin Health Laws transformed Colorado’s public health system into one of the best in the nation. She instituted a program that reduced Denver’s TB rate by 50 percent in two years and reduced the rate of syphilis by 90 percent. Colorado honored her by including her statue in its contribution to the National Statuary Hall Collection of the U.S. Capitol Building.

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