Americas First Lady of Science Florence Rena Sabin
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Americas First Lady of Science Florence Rena Sabin

Florence Rena Sabin, first lady of science, is a role model for all women in all professions.

As you know this series covers feminism, women’s issues, and the first women to successfully infiltrate a male dominated profession. Today I want to go backwards in time and write about the first woman to really be given the title the first woman.

Florence Rena Sabin opened her eyes to the world the first time in Central City. Colorado, on November 9. 1871. Little did her parents know that this little baby was to change the face of science. In a way we can call her the true first lady because she has an extraordinary list of firsts in her amazing career.

Early years

Florence was the second daughter born to George K. Sabin, a mining engineer and his wife Serena Miner Sabin, a schoolteacher. Her life got off to a rocky start as her mother died when she was but seven years old. The sisters were raised in Denver, Colorado, with their uncle and then with their paternal grandparents in Vermont. The girls attended Vermont Academy. The grandparents encouraged them to go on to college.

Even though Florence was already showing an aptitude for math and science, in high she had hopes of becoming a pianist. She focused her energy on music until a classmate broke her bubble telling here she was just average. From this tender age we already get the sense that Florence did not want to be average at anything. Although she was to change her career focus she never lost her love of the arts.

Florence followed her sister to Smith College and majored in zoology. Her talents were noted and the College physician encouraged her to apply to the newly opened co-educational medical school at John Hopkins. It was from this point that Florence found a field and a future passion where she would be anything but average. Florence received her B.A at Smith College in 1893, and took a position teaching in order to raise the money she needed for the tuition at John Hopkins.

In 1896, Florence entered John Hopkins University as one of the 14 women registered in a class of 45. Florence rose to the occasion and won the attention of an outstanding anatomist and scientist at John Hopkins by the name of Frank P. Mall. He took her under his wing. He mentored her, advocated for her, and provided her with his knowledge as a powerful role model. Mall guided her into the pure research field in infant brainstem research and embryological development of the lymphatic system. He got her to see a career that far surpassed the limitations of her gender. She did her internship at John Hopkins and won a research scholarship for the Baltimore Association for the Promotion of University Education for Women.

The legacy of firsts

In 1900 Sabin was the first woman to graduate from the prestigious John Hopkins University.

In 1902 she became the first woman to teach at the University. She taught embryology and histology in the field of anatomy.

In 1905 she became an associate professor and by 1917 she was the first woman to become full professor of histology at John Hopkins.

She remained at the university as popular and dedicated teacher and researcher until 1925. She made important contributions to the study of the lymphatic system. She worked on origins of blood vessels, blood cells, and connective tissue. She perfected the process of supravital staining in order to study cells. Her work was exceptional and a pivotal in science.

Florence Sabin was an inspiring teacher but her passion was in the area of pure research. Her fame in the advances she was making in research had spread and by 1923 she was invited to join the staff of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, where she would head the cellular studies department. Florence and her research team worked in the area of tuberculosis, making enormous contributions to the understanding of the affects of the tuberculosis bacteria upon the immune system. She worked for the institute for 13 years.

In 1924, she became the first woman president of the American Association of Anatomists.

1n 1925, she broke the hold on the good ole boys club by being becoming the first woman to hold membership in the National Academy of Sciences.

In 1925, she became the first woman appointed as a full member at the Rockefeller Institute

In 1929, she was awarded the Annual Achievement Award from Pictorial Review

In 1931, she was named as one of America's twelve most eminent living women in a Good Housekeeping magazine poll

In 1934, she published the biography of her mentor, Franklin Payne Mall

In 1938 Florence Sabin had retired; however she still served on advisory boards including the Guggenheim Foundation.

In 1944, she chaired the Health Committee of Colorado's Post-War Planning Committee. The committee was responsible for the health concerns of the state. Even though Florence Sabin was said to be retired and in her seventies at the time, she entered yet another important phase of her life. The woman known as “the little doctor’ shock up the state and reformed the health care system by overwhelming evidence for a better run health program. Her committee was instrumental in the issuance of a series of 5 health bills including the “Sabin Program,” for the inoculation against tuberculosis.

In 1945, she received the Trudeau Medal from the National Tuberculosis Association for her scientific work on pathology of tuberculosis.

In 1947, she was elected the chairperson of the interim Board of Health and Hospitals of Denver. She later became the manager of the Denver Department of Health and Charities and remained as such until 1951.

Her massive campaigns in Denver reduced the cases of tuberculosis from “54.7 to 27 per 100,000, and the syphilis frequency from 700 to 60 per 100,000.”

Sabin was one of the greatest women scientists of all time. She won award after award for her contributions. Six years after her death a statue was erected in her honor at the National Statuary Hall of the U.S.

Sabin has been noted as a role model for all women in all professions. She is the epitome of what a woman can achieve in this world. She had a passion for pure science research, a love of history, travel, philosophy, teaching, fine dinning, and bettering human kind through health policies. She was truly a well-rounded individual and a wonderful woman.



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Comments (6)

#RT'd via @nostate

Extremely interesting woman and article.

A very interesting history lesson, thank you for the well written information.

thank you Donald, Martha and Rae

Excellent article and research!

thanks Diane