Gertrude Elion was born January 23, 1918 in New York City. In school, she enjoyed and excelled in all of her classes, but when it came time to choose a major for college, a family experience led her choice.

In 1937, Gertrude graduated from Hunter College with a degree in chemistry. Upon graduation, Elion began studying at New York University in the evenings and on weekends, while substitute teaching in New York City Public Schools during the day. She taught physics, chemistry, and other sciences. In 1941 she obtained her Master of Science in the field of chemistry.

By this time, World War II had begun and there was a shortage of chemists in industrial laboratories. Although I was finally able to get a job in a laboratory, it was not in research. I did analytical quality control work for a major food company. After a year and a half, during which I learned a good deal about instrumentation, I became restless because the work was so repetitive and I was no longer learning anything. I applied to employment agencies for a research job, and was chosen to go to a laboratory at Johnson and Johnson in New Jersey. Unfortunately, that laboratory was disbanded after about six months. At that time I was offered a number of positions in research laboratories but the one which intrigued me most was a position as assistant to George Hitchings. – Getrude Elion

In this position, Elion expanded her expertise from solely chemistry to pharmacology, immunology, and other relevant sciences.

Elion and Hitchings in their laboratory.
Elion and Hitchings in their laboratory.

During this period, Elion was also working to get her doctorate by going to school at night at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. After several years of commuting to night classes, Elion was told she could no longer attend part-time, and must study full-time to obtain her doctorate. It was at this time that she decided to abandon her doctorate studies and remain at her job.

Gertrude 3

Throughout her career, Elion took part in developing treatments for several ailments, like leukemia, cancer, gout, and malaria. Later in her career, she assisted in the adaptation of AZT, a drug used to treat AIDS. She went on to receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine alongside George Hitchings and received honorary doctorate degrees from George Washington University, Brown University, and the University of Michigan.

Further Reading:







Sophie Rabinoff was born in Mogileff, Russia in 1889. Less than a year after her birth, her family immigrated to the United States, settling in New York City. Rabinoff attended Hunter College, going on to study at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, from which she graduated in 1913.


Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA

Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA

She soon became the first female intern at the Beth Israel Hospital, and later completed a residency at the New York Home for Infants. There, she conducted research on childhood diseases, and infant nutrition.

 At the Hebrew Infant Asylum in New York City, Alfred Hess and Sophie Rabinoff attempted to immunize children against mumps and chickenpox. Children who never had mumps received prophylactic injections of blood from convalescent donors and were then placed in mumps wards (Hess, 1915). Sophie Rabinoff’s enthusiastic report of successful efforts to stem the spread of varicella through vaccinations encouraged May Michael to repeat the attempt when chickenpox developed in Chicago’s Home for Jewish Friendless in 1017. She administered vaccines to thirty-two children, but drew few conclusions (Rabinoff, 1915; Michael, 1917). “Historical Overview: Pediatric Experimentation” by Susan E. Lederer and Michael A. Grodin in Children as Research Subjects: Science, Ethics and Law, ed. Michael A. Grodin

Sophie 1
Sophie Rabinoff in London, July 20, 1918. Courtesy of Jennifer Arnold Photo by Martin & Sallnow, 16 Piccadilly, London, W

Because of her knowledge in this specialized area, Rabinoff was chosen to join the American Zionist Medical Unit, a group that was sent to Palestine to provide healthcare and emergency medical services. The only woman in the group, Rabinoff helped create a clinic for Arab and Jewish children.

Upon returning to the United States, Rabinoff briefly maintained her own private practice, but soon began working as a pediatrician for the New York Department of Health. Rabinoff ran the pediatric clinic at Mount Sinai Hospital from 1919 – 1934 and sometime during the 1930s she was the cardiologist for the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. She was later appointed to Senior Health Officer of a portion of the Bronx.

Pediatrician and professor Sophie Rabinoff circa 1940s. Courtesy of Jennifer Arnold Photo: Murray A. Toback, Department of Medical Photography, NY Medical College,1 East 108th Street, New York, NY
Pediatrician and professor Sophie Rabinoff circa 1940s.
Courtesy of Jennifer Arnold
Photo: Murray A. Toback, Department of Medical Photography, NY Medical College,1 East 108th Street, New York, NY

Rabinoff earned a master of science in public health from Columbia University in 1944. She later went to East Harlem to administer health services to its population of Puerto Rican immigrants. In 1951, she became a full professor at New York Medical College, and was made director of the Public Health department at the school. She maintained this position until her death in 1957.

Further Reading:

Sophie Rabinoff, 1889 – 1957

Sophie Rabinoff

Meet Sophie Rabinoff as the Camera Saw Her

The Problem of Diptheria Carriers by Sophie Rabinoff, MD


Ruth Finkelstein grew up with her parents and four siblings in New York City and attended the Jacobi School, a private Jewish school for girls. From a young age, her father wanted her to be a doctor, and Ruth agreed. She attended Johns Hopkins University for undergraduate, earning her bachelor’s degree in 1930.

Immediately after graduating, she was accepted into the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and was the first female student from the Johns Hopkins undergraduate program to ever be accepted.

Finkelstein did an internship with Sinai Hospital, but was unable to complete a residency in gynecological surgery. She was not permitted to study surgery due to the lack of living quarters for women at the hospital.

After being turned away form gynecological surgery, Finkelstein turned to women’s health and family planning. She did a two-year apprenticeship in obstetrics and eventually began working in the Bureau for Contraceptive Advice.

In 1938 Finkelstein opened her own practice. While maintaining her own practice, she also worked as a clinician for Planned Parenthood and headed the Birth Control Clinic and the Adolescent Clinic at Sinai Hospital. In 1964, Finkelstein began a family planning program with the Baltimore City Health Department.

In 1990, Finkelstein retired and closed her private practice. She passed away at the age of 93.

Further reading:


Gerty Cori was born into a Jewish family in Prague on August 15, 1896. Encouraged as a child to study medicine, she attended the German University of Prague, and was one of very few female students in attendance. She graduated in 1920 with her M. D. degree.

Gerti Cori 1

Gerty married a classmate, Carl Cori, soon after graduation. They both worked in Vienna for some time, but moved to Buffalo, New York to avoid the oncoming war in Europe. There, Cori worked as an assistant pathologist. She and her husband eventually began studying together the metabolizing of glucose.

Gerty published eleven papers of her own, and collectively with her husband published fifty papers. They developed a theory, the “Cori Cycle,” which explains the movement of energy through the body. This theory won Cori and her husband a Nobel Prize. Gerty Cori was the third woman ever to win a Nobel Prize, and the first to do so in America.

Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori (1896-1957) and Carl Ferdinand Cori (1896-1984) 1947, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori (1896-1957) and Carl Ferdinand Cori (1896-1984) 1947, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Though both Gerty and her husband had developed the “Cori Cycle” together, Carl was the one who was offered countless jobs. Soon Carl took a high ranking job in Washington, and Gerty was offered a research assistant position, despite contributing greatly to the efforts that has won them the Nobel Prize.

Gerty maintained her research assistant position for sixteen years until she became a professor of biochemistry in 1947. The following year, she and her husband won the Nobel Prize once again, for research on glycogen.

Gerty Cori passed away on October 26, 1957 after a ten-year struggle with myelosclerosis. The Cori Crater on the moon is named in her honor.

Oblique view of Cori (crater), on the moon. Reprocessed Lunar Orbiter 5 image.
Oblique view of Cori (crater), on the moon.
Reprocessed Lunar Orbiter 5 image.

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Bessie Moses was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1893 to a family of German-Jewish descent. She attended Goucher College and graduated in 1915, and then attended graduate school at Johns Hopkins University.

After one year of medical school, Moses left to pursue teaching, encouraged solely by her father. She taught biology and zoology, first at Sarah Newcomb College, then at Wellesly College. She did this for two years, and then returned to Johns Hopkins University.

She graduated in 1922, and decided to become an obstetrician and a gynecologist. Moses interned at Johns Hopkins briefly after graduating – she was the first female obstetrical intern at that institution! She then transferred to the Women’s Hospital in Philadelphia, a groundbreaking institution that boasted an all-female staff.

Moses moved back to Baltimore and opened her own private practice in 1924. She also worked at multiple hospitals in the area as an obstetrician, but after a few years found it too taxing and began focusing on solely gynecology.

bessie moses

At her practice, she counseled women on marriage, family planning, and contraceptives. She soon opened multiple birth control clinics around the area, and eventually the country. Later, these clinics became known as Planned Parenthood.


Throughout her life, Moses fought for contraceptive rights, by counseling women, speaking to Congress, and writing a widely available book about gynecology techniques and contraceptives. She won countless awards for her efforts.

Bessie Moses passed away on March 25, 1965.


Lillian Wald was born on March 10, 1867 in Cincinnati, Ohio, into a German-Jewish family. In 1878, her family moved to Rochester, New York, where she soon attended New York Hospital’s School of Nursing. She graduated in 1891, and began medical school at the Woman’s Medical College.


In 1893, Wald left medical school and began teaching nursing classes for poor families at the Hebrew Technical School for Girls. She soon began caring for residents of the Lower East Side of Manhattan as a visiting nurse, and soon after she founded the Henry Street Settlement. The organization provided health care services to New Yorkers, as well as social services and arts programs. The Henry Street Settlement still operates today, but has expanded to several buildings and locations since it was founded.

Children at the Henry Street Settlement.
The Henry Street Settlement still operates today, but has expanded to several buildings and locations since it was founded. This is the original building Wald began the settlement in.
This is the original building Wald began the settlement in.

By 1913, the Henry Street Settlement had 92 staff members. While continuing to work at the Settlement, Wald started the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, a service that brought healthcare to the homes of those in need.

Lillian Wald supported a number of worthy causes. She advocated for putting nurses in public schools, and suggested a national health insurance plan. She assisted in founding the Columbia University School of Nursing, as well as the NAACP, and helped lead the National Child Labor Committee, a group that encouraged the implementation of child labor laws.

Wald died in 1940 at the age of 73. In 1970 she was elected into the Hall of Fame for Great Americans for her humanitarian acts throughout her life.

Wald’s bust at the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.
Wald’s bust at the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.

Further reading:

About her life:

About the Visiting Nurse Service of New York:

About the Henry Street Settlement:





Rosalind Franklin was born July 25, 1920 in London into a Jewish family. She was the second of the five children, and the eldest daughter. She excelled greatly in school, and was fluent in German and French. In 1938, she won a college scholarship, which she gave to a refugee student in need.


Franklin began studying chemistry at Newnham College, Cambridge in 1938, and in 1941 she was awarded second-class honors from her final exams. In 1945, Cambridge University awarded her a Ph.D. for her research on coal and its structure.

After college, Franklin began using X-ray diffraction to continue her study of coal, with the help of Jacques Mering, an X-ray crystallographer. Soon she was granted a fellowship in 1951 to do medical research at King’s College, London, where she initially researched lipids and proteins, but was quickly reassigned to research DNA fibers. There she discovered the DNA could take two different forms, an important and medical discovery crucial in the understanding of DNA.

A page from Franklin’s journal, detailing DNA.
A page from Franklin’s journal, detailing DNA.

After her important discovery, Franklin moved to the crystallography department of Birkbeck College. Working under J. D. Bernal, she researched and made important advances regarding the structure of various viruses.

Franklin died in 1958 of ovarian cancer. It is unknown if her work with X-rays was a factor in her illness.

Further reading:

About Rosalind Franklin:

About her journals: