It is a legendary story that stands out at an institution with its fair share of legendary stories. Mary Elizabeth Garrett, one of the most influential philanthropists and women activists of the Gilded Age, had rescued the School of Medicine's endowment using mostly her own money. However, her generosity came with conditions. First and foremost, the trustees had to agree to accept women on an equal basis as men. Second, high academic standards were to be set for acceptance to the school, including the requirement of a Bachelor's Degree, proficiency in French, German and Latin, and a strong background in science. The male trustees reluctantly agreed, and the school opened in the fall of 1893. "Mary Elizabeth Garrett was a remarkable woman, an inspiration to all of us," said Eileen “Patti” Vining, M.D. '72, a member of the Johns Hopkins Women's Medical Alumnae Association (JHWMAA).
The JHWMAA, which evolved from the Women’s Association of Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1957, celebrates and supports women alumni and faculty of the School of Medicine. Vining has been involved since 1968, when she first came to Hopkins as a medical student. She would attend monthly luncheons in the Mary Elizabeth Garrett Room, the lounge and sanctuary for women studying at the School of Medicine and working in the hospital. She joined the faculty in 1976 and went on to become the director of pediatric neurology. "I'm a feminist—I graduated from Vassar—so I have always been eager to work with women," Vining said of joining the JHWMAA. "We were a small minority in those days."
Garrett had opened the door to brilliant women who would become leaders in medicine such as Florence Sabin, M.D. and Helen Taussig, M.D., whose portraits can be found in the Mary Elizabeth Garrett Room as part of the JHWMAA's Hall of Fame. Established In 1993, the Hall of Fame honors extraordinary women graduates and alumni of the School of Medicine. "We try to keep in touch with our history," said Anne Murphy, M.D. '81, who Vining recruited to the JHWMAA and now serves as its president. "We seek to honor alumni or former faculty, living or deceased, who have had really terrific careers and have mentored women throughout their careers." An honoree is inducted each year during the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Reunion and Alumni Weekend. This year's honoree will be Barbara Migeon, M.D., who passed away in January—a pioneer of genetic medicine who was the sixth woman to reach the rank of professor at the School of Medicine.
Murphy first got involved with the JHWMAA in the 1990s after returning to her alma mater as a professor of pediatrics. In addition to completing her medical degree at Hopkins, Murphy was part of the second class of women to receive undergraduate degrees from Johns Hopkins University. While women could attend the School of Medicine as early as 1893, Johns Hopkins University did not begin accepting women undergraduates until 1970, nearly a century after the university's founding.
There were 20 women in Murphy’s medical school class, the highest enrollment of women in the school’s history. Over the course of her education, Murphy met women in medicine who became mentors and sources of inspiration, such as Catherine Neill, M.D. who worked alongside Helen Taussig and described scimitar syndrome.
Today, record numbers of women are applying to medical school, and the number of women matriculating outnumbers men. However, access to leadership roles and pay equity remain major issues. At Hopkins, Murphy has observed how the institution has worked to support women. One example is the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Office of Women in Science and Medicine, which supports academic progress and leadership opportunities for women faculty through education, advocacy, mentoring and networking. The JHWMAA also seeks to support women in their career goals. "We would like to enhance the ability of women faculty to advance up the academic ladder, or just learn different skills," said Murphy. This has traditionally included events like roundtables, welcome parties for incoming students, and a book club with books written by women faculty.
Murphy hopes that more women will get involved with the JHWMAA, especially younger women (Murphy's daughter, Julie Nogee, M.D. '11, is on the Hopkins pediatrics faculty). "Women approach life differently," said Murphy. "By coming together as a group, we can help each other out."
If you are interested in getting involved with the Johns Hopkins Women's Medical Alumnae Association, reach out to Anne Murphy, M.D. ([email protected]) and Eileen “Patti” Vining, M.D. ([email protected]).