1920-2020: Profiles of women in medicine

A century ago, the United States was embroiled in change. The nation had recently weathered the 1918 flu pandemic and welcomed home its veterans from the Great War. The pandemic had drafted Penn medical students from the classes of 1919 and 1920 into volunteer medical service as the deadly disease ravaged Philadelphia.

Julia Morgan portrait from 1920.
Julia Morgan earned her medical degree as one of four women in the class of 1920. (Image: Penn Medicine News)

The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine opened doors to women shortly before 1920—but for several decades to come, women made up only a tiny sliver of the medical student population and the medical profession writ large. One hundred years later, women comprised 54% of the graduating Class of 2020, a class moving on amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In the decades between the two pandemics, women medical students, physicians, and biomedical scientists have faced shifting challenges in pursuit of distinguished careers and lives.

The Perelman School of Medicine highlights archival images of women graduates starting in 1920. The first, Julia Morgan, earned her medical degree just two months before ratification of the 19th amendment gave her the right to vote. Throughout the century, the women highlighted were the first in their field, made remarkable innovations in medicine, opened up fields of study, and diversified the field of medicine through representation.

This story is by Carol Benenson Perloff. Read more at Penn Medicine News.