For 35 years, the United States has officially observed March as “Women’s History Month.”
Launched in 1978 as a week-long celebration in California, Women’s History Month was officially declared a national week-long observance by U.S. president Jimmy Carter in 1980, and recognized as a national month-long celebration in 1987. “Women’s History Month continues the discussion of women and their contributions through activities such as museum exhibits and film screenings, and by encouraging the study of achievements by women year-round,” writes Kay Boatner in a National Geographic Kids article.
In honor of all women who made and continue to make history in the fields of science and medicine, and in alignment with the 2022 “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope” theme, we’re highlighting four women who made history as alumni of and faculty at what is now the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine.
Learn more in the biographies below, adapted from previous articles written about these women’s many accomplishments and contributions.
Dorothy Lang, M.D.’24: The First Female Medical Student at UVM
In 1920, 98 years after the University of Vermont’s College of Medicine held its first official lectures, Dorothy Lang, M.D.’24, became the first woman to enroll as a UVM medical student. She paved the way for the women who closely followed in her footsteps including Bertha Chase, M.D.’26, Estelle Foote, M.D.’26, Doris Sidwell, M.D.’27, and Eloise Bailey, M.D.’28, and those who came years later.
At one time a silent film actress in New York City, she was spurred by the horrors of World War I to return to her home state of Vermont and pursue a career in medicine. Lang graduated second in her class, the only woman among thirty-three graduating medical students.
Lang returned to New York after graduation and worked as an allergist and pediatrician until the early 1950s, when she became ill. She eventually died of cancer in 1955 at the age of 56. In a Spring 2004 Vermont Medicine article, Lang’s sons Craig and John remembered their mother, saying, “She absolutely loved medicine. It was her life.”
Learn more about Lang:
UVM Today’s “UVM Women You Should Know”
“Celebrating 100 Years of Women in Medicine at UVM,” a blog post by Larner medical student Lousia Moore ’24
Vermont Medicine Spring 2004: “The First Women”
Harriet Dustan, M.D.’44: A Pioneer in the Field of Hypertension
Born in Craftsbury, Vermony in 1920, Harriet Dustan, M.D.’44 has long been lauded as a national pioneer in medicine – specifically in the field of cardiology.
A two-time graduate of UVM, first with a bachelor’s degree in 1938 and then with a medical degree in 1942, Dustan, like Dorothy Lang, found herself amidst mostly male classmates during medical school – only one other woman was in her graduating class. Dustan completed an internship at what was then the Mary Fletcher Hospital (now, UVM Medical Center), residency in Montreal, and later returned to UVM and Vermont to help “establish the medical student teaching program at Bishop DeGosbriand Hospital,” which was located at the current 1 South Prospect Street complex.
In 1984 Dustan left UVM for a position at the Cleveland Clinic, where she worked for 30 years and conducted groundbreaking research that included determining the mechanisms and actions of many hypertension medications. She then worked at the University of Alabama School of Medicine from 1977-1987 as director of the Cardiovascular Research and Education Program. Dustan returned to Vermont in 1990, serving as a visiting professor of pharmacology and medicine at the UVM College of Medicine and as a member of the UVM Medical Alumni Association’s executive committee.
Throughout her life, Dustan claimed many honors and “firsts,” including acting as a lead researcher in the field of hypertension and becoming the first president of the American Heart Association, the first female member of the Board of Governors of the American Board of Internal Medicine, and the first female regent of the American College of Physicians.
Learn more about Dustan (biography adapted from):
Changing the Face of Medicine: Dr. Harriet Pearson Dustan
Hypertension: Obituary: “Harriet Pearson Dustan”
Hall A Magazine Spring 1998: “A Proud, Active Tradition”
Jacqueline Noonan, M.D.’54: A Name Forever Embedded in Medical Lexicon
Once told by family friends that she would never get into college, Jacqueline Noon, M.D.’54, not only became the first member of her family to get a bachelor’s degree, but the first to earn a medical degree as well.
Born in Burlington, Vt., and raised in Hartford, Ct., Noonan’s was inspired to pursue a career in medicine early in her life after nearly dying from a ruptured appendix as a child.
Nine years after graduating from the UVM College of Medicine and practicing as a pediatric cardiologist, Noonan cemented her place in medical history by becoming the first person to identify a rare hereditary heart disorder present in only one in 1,500 infants. The disorder, which is characterized by heart malformations and unique physical characteristics, was later named “Noonan Syndrome” after her pioneering discoveries and papers about the disorder.
Noonan’s additional accomplishments include becoming a founding faculty member at the University of Kentucky, where she served as chief of pediatric cardiology for 37 years, and her role as the chair of pediatrics for 18 of those years.
Learn more about Noonan (biography adapted from):
Listen to an interview with Noonan by Richard Smoot of the University of Kentucky Libraries in 1986.
“Albertus Magnus College Mourns the Loss of Jacqueline A. Noonan, M.D.’50”
“Tribute to a Lifetime of Caring” in Vermont Medicine Fall 2004
“Profiles in Giving” in Vermont Medicine Summer 2021
Carol “Lee” Phillips, M.D.: First Female Chair of a Clinical Department at UVM
A graduate of Yale Medical School, Carol “Lee” Phillips, M.D., first joined the UVM College of Medicine in 1968 as a faculty member in the Department of Pediatrics. In 1983, 15 years after she first arrived at UVM, she claimed a permanent spot in the history of the College when she became the first woman to hold a clinical chair position as the chair of pediatrics. She served as the department chair for 10 years, and also served as the College’s associate dean for admissions from 1977-1983 and associate dean for academic affairs from 1985-1994.
Notably, at the state level, Phillips was Vermont’s only board-certified pediatric infectious disease specialist for several years and also served as a Vermont Department of Health epidemiologist. Among her many additional accomplishments and accolades are her role on the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases and her receipt of the 2014 “Heart of the Community Award” from the Lund Center.
“She trail-blazed and was a model for women in academic medicine,” writes current Chair of Pediatrics Lewis First, M.D., adding “She was always available for sound advice and was viewed by colleagues as a brilliant pediatrician, teacher, and friend. No one was more humble.”
Learn more about Phillips (biography adapted from):
“Resolution in Memorium: Carol Lee Phillips, M.D.,” by Lewis First, M.D.
Carol Lee Phillips – Obituary, Burlington Free Press, January 6, 2019