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Wednesday, August 20, 2003


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Papers of Florence R. Sabin Added to National Library of Medicine's Profiles in Science Web Site

Bethesda, Maryland — The National Library of Medicine's Profiles in Science Web site has been enriched by the addition of the papers of Florence Rena Sabin, M.D. This brings to 11 the number of notable scientists who have personal and professional records included in Profiles. The site is at www.profiles.nlm.nih.gov.

"It matters little whether men or women have the more brains; all we women need to do to exert our proper influence is just to use all the brains we have."

These words were spoken by Florence Rena Sabin, M.D. (1871-1953), probably the best-known American woman scientist of her time. She was the first woman to teach at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and the first appointed full professor there; the first woman elected to the National Academy of Sciences; and the first to hold full membership at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.

"Dr. Sabin was an extraordinary scientist and made significant contributions to several fields of medical science," said Dr. Alexa McCray, who heads up the Profiles Project. "She spent one medical life as researcher at prestigious medical institutions and upon retirement began another medical career as a public health official."

Florence Sabin was born in a Colorado mining town and graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts in 1893. She earned her M.D. at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1900. Her outstanding laboratory work in anatomy — she published a monograph in 1901 — persuaded the Johns Hopkins administration to hire her in 1902. In 1925, she left Hopkins to pursue full-time research at the Rockefeller Institute, where her team was part of an inter-institutional initiative to understand the process of tuberculosis infection.

During her early career her research progressed from purely descriptive anatomical studies of the nervous system and cell types to more complex investigations of the development and physiology of living tissues and the functions of living cells. Her work at the Rockefeller Institute focused on the role of immune system cells in the body's response to infection, particularly tuberculosis.

In 1938, Sabin retired to Colorado. A second career, this time in public health, began when she agreed to chair the Colorado governor's post-war planning committee for health in 1944. This committee investigated health services in the state, drafted a series of health bills later known as the "Sabin Program," and then campaigned for their passage. Sabin also served as chair of an Interim Board of Health and Hospitals of Denver, and then as Manager of the Denver Department of Health and Charities until 1951. In the latter post, she launched a vigorous campaign to clean up the city, improve its sanitation, enforce health regulations for restaurants and food suppliers, and screen the population for tuberculosis and syphilis. Within two years, Denver's tuberculosis incidence was reduced from 54.7 to 27 per 100,000, and the syphilis frequency from 700 to 60 per 100,000. In 1951, Sabin received a Lasker Award for her public health work.

The online exhibition features correspondence, published articles and reports, and photographs from the Florence Sabin collections at the American Philosophical Society and the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College. Visitors to Profiles in Science can view, for example, a series of candid photos taken at Sabin's Rockefeller laboratory and correspondence between Sabin and her collaborators on the tuberculosis project.

Profiles in Science was launched September 1998 by the National Library of Medicine, a part of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, a constituent agency of the Department of Health and Human Services.


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