Julia Lathrop was born in Rockford, Illinois, and died there at the age of 74. As historian Miriam Cohen explains, newspaper coverage of her death often quoted Lathrop's friend and fellow social reformer Jane Adams, who described Lathrop as "one of America's most useful women."
A Nobel Prize and Hope for Children with Leukemia
Gertrude B. Elion (1918–1999) revolutionized the development of pharmaceuticals. She won a Nobel Prize for her work in 1988.
At age 19, she graduated summa cum laude from Hunter College. Despite her high grades, Elion was initially rejected from graduate schools and research positions because of her gender. Fortunately for anyone who's benefitted from modern pharmaceuticals, Elion did not give up. Eventually, she was accepted into graduate school at New York University, which she attended while teaching high school.
When labs began hiring women out of necessity during the Second World War, Elion was hired by George Hitchings at Burroughs Welcome (now GlaxoSmithKline). With Hitchings and her own team, Elion developed a breakthrough drug for leukemia, the first antiviral drug, and a drug used in organ transplantation. Even during her retirement, she advised the team that developed AZT, the first drug approved to treat AIDs. In addition to her Nobel Prize, Elion was awarded 23 honorary degrees and granted 45 patents. Gertrude Elion passed away in 1999, the last year of a century during which she had a direct and lasting role in shaping the health of our nation and the world.
Inspiration for a Healthier 21st Century
Reading about women like Gertrude Elion reminds me that Nemours Children's Health owes its very existence to a determined, visionary woman who cared deeply about children. A school administrator before marrying Alfred I. duPont, Jessie Ball duPont was largely responsible for creating the vision through which his wishes were carried out after his death. As the founding chair of the Nemours Foundation, she oversaw the creation of the Alfred I. du Pont Institute (now Nemours Children's Hospital in Delaware). She stressed the importance of caring for the whole child and convened leaders from the public and private sectors to advance practices and policy. Her work lives on today as Nemours conducts cutting-edge research, provides free health information via KidsHealth.org, and advocates for government attention to child health at the highest levels of government.
I asked Dr. Kara Odom Walker, our Chief Population Health Officer and the former Secretary of the Delaware Department of Health and Services, for her thoughts on women's history month and this article. As a Delaware native passionate about chemistry, medicine and health equity, she said she feels connected to and inspired by women like Crumpler, Lathrop, Elion and duPont.
"Their visionary work in the 19th and 20th centuries is a model for the work we must do now to advance and improve life for all Americans in the 21st century — from advocating for a White House Office on Children and Youth to addressing the social determinants of health."
I couldn't agree more.