Women Who Inspire Us
For the month of March, Women’s History Month, we will be celebrating women in health + healthcare. Every day, we will be sharing with you a female hero of ours: from doctors to activists, midwives to scientists. Whether they’ve changed the dialogue surrounding our bodies, pioneered their industry, or changed the way we practice medicine itself; our heroes know no bounds and inspire us to be our best selves.
Check back in daily, as we’ll be updating this post throughout the month. And while we’re at it, here’s a Spotify playlist for you filled with songs by some badass women:
1. Elizabeth Blackwell: Physician
Elizabeth Blackwell became the very first female doctor in the U.S. back in 1849.
Ironically, she originally felt repulsed by the idea of medicine, saying “the thought of dwelling on the physical structure of the body and its various ailments filled me with disgust.” It wasn’t until her dying friend told her that she felt she would have been spared her worst suffering if her physician had been a woman that Elizabeth decided to become a doctor. What better way to fix an imbalance in medicine than to dive in and get the job done yourself!?
2. Dr. Rachel Levine: Pennsylvania Physician General
Dr. Levine’s appointment as Pennsylvania Physician General, PA’s top Doc, was unanimously unopposed by both parties in the state senate – a political rarity to say the least. What makes this even more groundbreaking? Dr. Levine also happens to be transgender, making her one of only a small handful of transgender government officials in United States. This is actually one of the things Levine is most proud of, “they were able to look solely at my professional qualifications, which is exactly how it should be.” she has said.
Over the years she has worked to improve access to health care for the LGBTQ Community and has spoken at hospitals and medical schools about how the medical profession can better serve vulnerable communities. Levine says, “We need to do a better job educating medical students about LGBT issues and transgender medicine.” She was recently recognized as one of NBC’s Pride 30, a national list of 30 people who are both members of + making a difference in the lives of the LGBTQ community.
3. Alice Ball: Chemist
Alice Ball was a chemist who, in her early twenties, developed the most effective treatment for leprosy which was used for decades. Prior to Ball’s discovery, traditional healers in India and parts of Southeast Asia used a specific oil from the Chaulmoogra tree to treat leprosy either through ingestion or topically on the skin. They weren’t able to administer is intravenously as the oil was incredibly thick which meant injections were incredibly painful. Ultimately, this would be the key.
Enter: Alice Ball. She was a chemist with dual bachelor’s degrees from the University of Washington in pharmaceutical chemistry as well as in pharmacy. She moved to Hawaii to do graduate work and became the first African American as well as the first woman to graduate from the University of Hawaii with a master’s degree.
In 1916, Ball was able to successfully isolate the fatty acid compounds from the oil (now known to be the antimicrobial hydnocarpic acid) and made the first preparation of a water-soluble, injectable form of chaulmoogra oil. The treatment was used globally for 30 years.
Ball died when she was 24 years old, just one year after her discovery. The President of the University of Hawaii, Arthur Dean, “continued her studies” and claimed he had made the discovery himself and even went on to call it the “Dean Method.” In 2000, almost a century after Ball’s discovery, the University of Hawaii officially, and finally, recognized Ball for her groundbreaking discovery.
4. Catherine Harry: Activist
Catherine is an Activist and Vlogger in her 20s from Cambodia. She uses both Facebook and YouTube as platforms to educate fellow Cambodians about feminism, sexual and reproductive health, as well as other topics not usually openly discussed in her country like masturbation, menstruation, and abortion.
She believes the culture of silence surrounding these issues disempowers women. “I want to open a discussion about those things – it’s time to start talking about topics that we are not supposed to talk about because all of them suppress women,” she says.
Her videos recieve a ton of attention, amassing millions of views on each post. Catherine says Facebook is one of the few spaces young people can speak freely, ask questions and participate in a conversation they wouldn’t dare to have with their friends face to face.. “Because they can watch [the videos] on their smartphone in their bedroom and then they can comment anonymously, that’s the way they can get involved in the conversation,” she says.
5. Simone de Beauvoir: Writer, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist + social theorist.
“Man is defined as a human being and a woman as a female – whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male.” Simone was a french existential feminist and writer who in 1949 penned “The Second Sex;” a groundbreaking essay on the oppression of women.
Beauvoir argued that abstract freedom (For example, the right to vote) would make no difference to a woman who is deprived of health, education, and money to take advantage of such rights.
At the time “The Second Sex” was controversial to say the least. However, despite being placed on the Index of Forbidden Books by the Vatican, de Beauvoir’s essay remained a source of inspiration and insight for countless women over the years.
Today, Simone is often seen as a pioneer of the modern feminist movement.
6. Michelle Obama: Lawyer, Writer, Activist
During her 8 years at the White House as the First African American First Lady, Michelle Obama worked incredibly hard to change so many lives in so many ways (we miss you, come back) but we’re going to focus on the how she promoted both physical + mental health during her time as FLOTUS.
In 2010 she launched “Let’s Move,” an initiative to raise awareness about childhood obesity and to encourage more physical activity, as well as urge schools to provide access to healthier foods. This was the first time that this issue had been taken on as such a high priority by a presidential administration. She also championed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids act which was able to get schools to serve healthier foods and reduce the costs of lunches for low-income children. Remember when Ketchup was considered a vegetable?
Obama was also an advocate for girls’ and women’s health, education and rights. Launched by both Michelle and Barack Obama, the “Let Girls Learn” initiative aimed to reduce the barriers girls around the world face to getting quality education.
7. Florence Nightingale: Founder of Modern Nursing
Born into a wealthy English family in 1820, Florence Nightingale was expected to marry a wealthy man and tend to the home. At the time, nursing was looked down on by upper social classes. When Nightingale told her parents about her ambitions to become a nurse, they went so far as to forbid her from doing so. Well, they tried to at least.
In 1849, Florence turned down a proposal from a wealthy man. The next year, she was enrolled as nursing student at an institution in Germany.
Soon after in the 1850’s, she took up a nursing job in a hospital in London where she was quickly promoted to superintendent. Around the same time, she volunteered at a second hospital that had a cholera outbreak. The hospital had incredibly unsanitary conditions which led to the rapid spread of the disease and Nightingale made it her mission to improve hygiene practices which significantly lowered the death rate.
In late 1854, Nightingale was asked by the Secretary of War to organize a group of nurses to tend to the soldiers in the Crimea. At that point, the condition of the hospital was so unsanitary that by the time she got there more soldiers were dying from infectious diseases, like typhoid or cholera, than from injuries incurred in battle.
Nightingale set to work. With the help of the nurses and even some patients who were able, she cleaned the hospital from top to bottom and from there on out maintained a high level of cleanliness. She quickly earned the nickname “the Lady with the Lamp,” as she would spend every waking minute caring for the soldiers, making her rounds well into the darkest hours. Her work reduced the hospital’s death rate by two-thirds, and sparked worldwide health care reform.
8. Jill Blakeway: Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese medicine, Author, Speaker, Founder of YinOva
Jill Blakeway is a hero who, as our founder, is incredibly close to our hearts. To be honest she didn’t want to be featured in this list, because she didn’t think she’d achieved enough, but we over-ruled her!
To the team here at YinOva, Jill is an inspiration. She is an example of a strong woma n who has worked incredibly hard to provide a healing sanctuary for other women and their loved ones.
In 1999, Jill was a single mother with few resources when she had the idea to start YinOva. The center grew, treatment room by treatment room, and now almost 2 decades later, it is one of the largest acupuncture practices in the US and home to a vibrant community of talented practitioners, support staff, and patients.
Jill has always been incredibly passionate about women’s reproductive health. From irregular menstrual cycles to menopausal hot flashes, and everything in between, Jill has helped countless women over the years to reclaim their bodies and take control over their reproductive health. She is best known for is helping women to conceive, either naturally or assisting them through IVF. Earning herself the nickname of “fertility goddess” from the New York Times.
Back in 2002, Jill founded the Acupuncture Program at Lutheran Medical Center, one of the earlier examples of successfully integrating Chinese medicine into a western hospital. The program at the time provided care to inpatients in the Labor and Delivery units. Today, the program has grown and now looks after the Neurological/Orthopedic Rehabilitation unit as well.
One of Jill’s skills is translating Chinese medicine for a western audience. Whether she is teaching at a doctorate level, speaking at a TED talk, or showing western doctors the effects of acupuncture; She is able to demystify and communicate the wisdom that underpins Chinese medicine through science, research, and quite honestly, her own results.
In 2009 Jill’s first book, Making Babies, was published and became a bestseller in it’s genre. She followed that with a book about libido, Sex Again, which was published in 2013 and she’s currently writing a book about the science (and some of the mystery) behind energy healing for Harper Collins. And she’s still here in the office with us most weeks, treating patients and inspiring the team to deliver the kind of open-hearted, patient-centered care YinOva is known for.
9. Dr. Jane Cooke Wright: Physician and Cancer Researcher
Dr. Jane Cooke Wright was a physician and cancer researcher who defied both gender and racial barriers in a profession long dominated by white men. She dedicated her career to the advancement of cancer treatment and helped make chemotherapy a viable treatment option.
In the 1940s, chemotherapy was thought of as a “last resort,” and was still in the experimental stages of drug development. As a result, the types of drugs available (as well as their prescribed dosages) weren’t well defined.
From an already distinguished medical family, Wright began her career as a researcher working alongside her father at a cancer center he established at Harlem Hospital in New York.
Together, Jane and her father were one of the first groups of researchers to to discover the use of nitrogen-mustard as a treatment for cancer that led to remissions in patients with several major cancer types. Before this, many blood cancers were seen as incurable. When her father died in 1952, She took over as director of the Harlem Hospital Cancer Research Foundation.
In 1967, Dr. Wright became a professor of surgery at New York Medical College. At the time she was the highest ranking African American woman in a United States medical institution.
Her contributions to the research of chemotherapy have helped to change the face of medicine and continue to be used to this day.
10. Ina May Gaskin: Midwife, Author
Often referred to as the Mother of Midwifery, Gaskin’s work challenged our accepted notions of what a “normal” birth should be and encouraged women to believe in the strength and intuition of their bodies, and not to rely on what an OB dictates. She firmly believed that giving birth should be looked at as a normal life experience, and not a scary medical event.
In 1971 Gaskin founded a commune called The Farm in Tennessee. Around the same time, she created The Farm Midwifery Center, one of the first out-of-hospital birthing centers in the United States. Family and friends were commonly in attendance and were even encouraged to take an active role in the birth. Gaskin has been credited with the emergence and popularization of direct-entry midwifery (meaning, not training as a nurse first) in the U.S..
According to Carol Lorente, Gaskin’s work might not have had the impact it did, had it not been for her book Spiritual Midwifery which was published in 1977. Lorente writes, “Considered a seminal work, it presented pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding from a fresh, natural and spiritual perspective, rather than the standard clinical viewpoint. In home birth and midwifery circles, it made her a household name, and a widely respected teacher and writer.” From that point on, Gaskin was often asked to speak at midwifery events around the world and is still to this day admired by many natural birthing practitioners.
11. Virginia Apgar: Obstetrical Anesthesiologist, Professor, and Creator of the Apgar Score
It has been said that “every baby born in a modern hospital anywhere in the world is looked at first through the eyes of Virginia Apgar.” Back in the 1950s, Dr. Virginia Apgar created an quick and easy method for assessing newborn viability. This was incredibly important because, despite more and more women having babies in hospitals, newborn mortality rates remained high. Now known as the Apgar Score, her method not only reduced these mortality rates, but also laid the foundations for proper care of newborn infants, otherwise known as neonatology. While Dr. Apgar is best known for this achievement, she was also a leader in both the emerging field of anesthesiology as well as in teratology, the study of birth defects.
Born in 1909, Apgar grew up at a time where women had tremendous trouble entering the medical field and even then, with a medical degree behind them, they were often pushed into obscure branches of medicine or discouraged by their male colleagues.
She began her medical training at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University in 1929, one of nine women in a class on ninety. Despite Apgar’s clear talents as a surgeon, Dr. Alan Whipple, the chair of surgery, discouraged her from pursuing surgery as a career and instead insisted that Apgar become an anesthesiologist. Ironically, despite the fact that anesthesiology was not a recognized specialty at the time, this branch of medicine would ultimately lead Apgar down the path to changing medicine forever.
In 1949, Apgar became the first woman to become a full professor at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. She also began to research how anesthesia affected mothers and babies, an area of study that was neglected at the time. “As late as the 1940s, delivery-room doctors focused on mothers and paid little attention to babies,” Melinda Beck, a friend of Apgar’s recalled. “Those who were small and struggling were often left to die, since doctors assumed little could be done for them.” That all changed when one day a medical student of Apgar’s asked her how she evaluates the health of a newborn baby. She jotted down a quick list of five important things to look out for: the baby’s heart rate, the appearance of the baby’s skin, how quickly the baby is breathing, as well as the level of movement and reflexes.
Apgar wondered if this checklist could, on a larger scale, help others assess babies right after being born. She tried it out, and the rest is history. The Apgar score works on a scale from 0-10, 10 being a perfectly healthy baby with points being scored throughout the 5 categories. Now-a-days, most, if not pretty close to all, babies are born with an Apgar score. Her score is credited with a steady increase in infant survival rates, and her work with new babies helped her, and subsequently the whole world, discover ways to detect birth defects within moments of a baby’s birth.
12. Brené Brown: Professor, Researcher, Author, Public Speaker
Brené Brown is a professor, researcher, author, speaker and a mental health advocate. Her research and books on vulnerability, empathy, shame, and wholehearted living, as well as the courage to be authentic have been incredibly empowering and life affirming for so many people both in the wellness world and beyond. Her words are so impactful in fact, that her TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is one of the top five most viewed TED talks. Ever. It has 30 million views, seriously go watch it right now.
Brené’s ultimate goal is to teach us how to live our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness by encouraging us to embrace our vulnerabilities and our imperfections. In her own words, “Wholehearted living is about engaging with our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.’ It’s going to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
13. Maria Montessori: Physician and Educator
Maria Montessori was both a physician and an educator who developed the Montessori Method of teaching, which suggests that children learn best when their environment supports their natural desire to learn skills and knowledge. Her method discourages traditional competitive measurements of achievement (like grades or tests) and instead focuses on the individual progress and development of each child.
Montessori was born in 1870 in Ancona, Italy; not too long after our friend, and number 7 on this list, Florence Nightingale. Montessori faced very similar challenges in trying to enter the medical field, as women entering the medical world was frowned upon. Everyone from her teachers to her own father tried to stand in her way and discourage her from pursuing a career in medicine; however, despite their best efforts, Maria graduated (with highest honors we might add!) from the Medical School of the University of Rome. She was first female physician in Italy.
She went on to teach at the Medical School of the University of Rome, which is where she first came into more frequent contact with children. Through the school were free clinics for the “deficient and insane” children of the city, most of whom would be diagnosed in the twenty-first century as autistic or mentally disabled.
These kids were kept in bleak settings and treated poorly by the staff members of the hospital. As Montessori got to know these kids better, she recognized that the reason they weren’t thriving wasn’t because they lacked intelligence, but because they were in an environment didn’t allow them to grow. She changed all of that by that by creating a program that kept the children stimulated, gave them purposeful activities, and helped boost their self-esteem.
The Montessori theory is still used to this day. In fact, scientists have found that her approach is more likely to produce more mature, creative, and socially adept children.
14. Chrissy Teigen: Supermodel, author, health advocate
Body positivity queen, Chrissy Teigen, is a hero to us because she has helped to start a conversation about both IVF and postpartum depression, two sensitive topics that are often not discussed.
Chrissy first opened up about her struggles conceiving a few years back, saying, “John and I were having trouble. We would have had kids five, six years ago if it had happened […] But my gosh, it’s been a process.” She has since then spoken candidly about IVF, freezing embryos, as well as the emotional toll of infertility.
After the birth of their baby girl, Luna, Chrissy continued her open dialogue and shared that she struggled with post partum depression, a condition that affects roughly 1 in 7 women: “A year ago, in April, John and I started our family together. We had our daughter, Luna, who is perfect. She is somehow exactly me, exactly John, and exactly herself. I had everything I needed to be happy. And yet, for much of the last year, I felt unhappy. What basically everyone around me — but me — knew up until December was this: I have postpartum depression.”
Here at YinOva we care for women as they go through both IVF and treat Postpartum depression. Many of our patients feel lonely and as if they have to go to battle alone. It touches us to see someone using their platform to remind women that, yes we are tough and amazing, yes we can sometimes feel broken, but no we are not alone.
In an open letter to Glamour Magazine about her Postpartum depression, Chrissy wrote: “I’m speaking up now because I want people to know it can happen to anybody and I don’t want people who have it to feel embarrassed or to feel alone,” she writes. “I also don’t want to pretend like I know everything about postpartum depression, because it can be different for everybody. But one thing I do know is that — for me — just merely being open about it helps. This has become my open letter.”
Thank you, Chrissy, for encouraging us to shift from an internal monologue to an open dialogue. We appreciate your openness and your encouragement.
15. Jane Goodall: Primatologist and Anthropologist
Jane Goodall is a conservationist born in England in 1934 who the age of 26 set off into the jungle to study Chimpanzees. Over half a century later, with countless books and movies about her she is still going strong and teaching us more than we could have imagined about what it is to be human. Through her inspiring work studying our closest genetic cousins (98.8%!!) she has not only been a champion of the conservation movement, but has also helped us see the connections between the natural environment, human society and public & personal health. Her message that we are connected a cellular and universal level really resonates with us!
At 84 years old Jane is still on the road educating people young and old about Chimpanzees and the world we all share. The Jane Goodall Institute helps communities large and small develop important local educational and agricultural programs that allow them to work more sustainably within their environment. One of these programs, Roots and Shoots works directly with young people to foster a generation of informed citizens who see we are all able to live healthier lives through action that protects the world.
Fun fact: when Dr. Jane was just 1 year old her parents gave her a stuffed animal that looked like a monkey. All their friends thought it was a bad idea – that it would scare her and give her nightmares. Instead, Jubilee became Jane’s best friend and 83 years later the pair are still together.
16. Mary Fisher: Activist and Artist
Mary Fisher is an AIDS activist who, in the early 90’s, made a huge impact in terms of breakng down the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDs.
Mary contracted HIV from her second husband, after he cheated on her with her best friend. From that moment on, she decided to be open about her illness and subsequently became an outspoken HIV/AIDS activist for the prevention, education and for the compassionate treatment of people with HIV and AIDS.
The Detroit Free Press published her story in 1992, and soon after she was invited to speak at the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston, Texas. There, she encouraged the Republican Party to handle the AIDS crisis with compassion. One of the reasons her speech was so stirking was because, as a white blonde woman, she did not fit the unfair stereotype of someone living with AIDS/HIV that people commonly held at the time. That, in combination with her powerful message, was so impactful that it is still to this day referred to as “one of the best American speeches of the 20th Century.”
17. Andrea Evangelina Rodríguez Perozo: Physician
In 1909, Evangelina Rodríguez became the first female physician in the Dominican Republic. She spent her time giving medical attention to people from poor communities for free or for very little money. She focused a lot of her energy on supporting women and women’s health; she offered pre and post-natal OB/GYN services and she created a support center for mothers in need. She was also an activist, and advocated for family planning and in-school sex education. Through her activism, she was able to bring to light broader issues in Dominican society regarding race, gender, and class that contributed to inequalities faced by the people she treated. She believed so strongly in what she fought for that, despite her efforts putting her in danger with dictator Rafael Trujillo, she continued to fight for what she felt was right.
18. Rachel Carson: Marine Biologist, Author and Environmentalist
Rachel Carson was a marine biologist and an author who, back in the 1960’s, single-handedly started a global environmental movement. Let’s let that sink in for a moment.
Carson loved nature and science and studied to become a Zoologist in 1932. She began her career as a writer, creating and editing pamphlets on conservation and natural resources as well as articles for several scientific publications.
However, her attention shifted after World War II. Disturbed by the high volume of synthetic chemical pesticides used after the war, Carson used her writing skills to bring awareness and to effect significant change. In 1962 her book, Silent Spring, was published. She set out to warn the public about the long-term effects of continued misuse of pesticides. She challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government and called for a change in the way we viewed the natural world.
This led to Carson being attacked by both the chemical industry and the government, who saw her as an alarmist. That didn’t stop her though. She continued to speak out, warning people that we need to protect the world we live in, as we are a vulnerable part of the natural world subject to the same damage as the rest of the ecosystem.
Carson’s mission to raise awareness was so influential and, honestly, life saving, that her work eventually inspired the formation of the EPA!
19. Rebecca Lee Crumpler: Physician and Author
In 1864, a time where advanced education for women was rare, Dr. Crumpler graduated from medical school and became the first African American woman to earn a medical degree in the United States.
She started her first medical practice in Boston, but when the war ended in 1865, she moved to Richmond, Virginia to help the freed slaves who otherwise would not have had access to medical care. Racism was still widespread, which made it, in Crumpler’s words: “a proper field for real missionary work.”
A few years later, in 1869, she returned to Boston and created a new practice that centered around caring for women and children. Passionate about women’s health, she went on to write A Book of Medical Discourses: a book for women to provide them with information on how to care for their own health as well as the health of their families.
20. Brenda Milner: British-Canadian brain researcher
Often referred to as the “founder of neurophysics,” Dr. Brenda Milner, now 99 years old, currently holds more than 20 honorary degrees and continues to work. She is currently a professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University as well as a professor of Psychology at the Montreal Neurological Institute.
Dr. Milner received her MA from Cambridge University in 1949. During that time, she also studied at several other universities in Canada. Seriously, this woman is a powerhouse. In 1944 she joined the Institut de Psychologie at the Université de Montréal and in 1950, she continued her studies at the Montreal Neurological Institute as well as at McGill University. By 1952 she had earned her Ph.D. in experimental psychology from McGill University.
She continued her studies at the Montreal Neurological Institute and also taught as a Professor at McGill University. Dr. Milner soon became one of the pioneers of neuropsychology. Her detailed and methodical long term studies of patients both before and after well documented brain excisions, particularly in epilepsy cases, have added substantially to the scientific understanding of the structure of the brain. She also discovered and demonstrated that our brains have multiple memory systems that govern different functions, such as motor skills or language. Her work contributed to a greater understanding of how the brain works and she is, quite rightly, considered to be one of greatest neuroscientists of the 20th century.
21. Antonia Novello: Former Surgeon General of the United States
Dr. Antonia Novello was Born in Puerto Rico and overcame childhood poverty and illness to become a leading doctor in America. In 1990 Antonia was appointed United States Surgeon General by George Bush. Becoming not only the first Women to hold the office but also the first Hispanic
During her time in office Dr Novello took particular interest in the health of young people, women and minorities. Regularly speaking out against under age drinking, smoking and drug abuse as well as being an advocate for childhood immunization and injury prevention and played an active role in alerting the nation to increasing incidence of the AIDS virus among women.
After serving as Surgeon General, Dr. Novello was a special representative to United Nations Children’s Fund from 1993-1996 and is currently commissioner of health for the state of New York one of the largest public health agencies in the country.