Logo and graphics for Rise, Serve, Lead!: America's Women Physicians

Rise, Serve, Lead… And Publish

Ashley Bowen, Ph.D. will speak on Thursday, December 3, 2020 at 2:00 PM ET. This program will be live-streamed globally, and archived, by NIH VideoCasting. Dr. Bowen is Editor of Perspectives on History at the American Historical Association (AHA). Circulating Now interviewed her about her upcoming talk.

Circulating Now: We heard from you last year at the launch of the NLM exhibition Rise, Serve, Lead!: America’s Women Physicians; it’s nice to have you back. Will you tell us a little about what you’ve been working on lately?

A photogrpah of a white woman.Ashley Bowen: Just as the pandemic began, I joined the American Historical Association (AHA) as the editor of their newsmagazine, Perspectives on History. There are always worries when you begin a new job, but putting out four issues of a magazine without setting foot in the office or meeting my new team face-to-face was a unique challenge. It’s been wonderful to serve as the magazine’s editor, though, because I have a chance to work with talented historians working in a wide variety of fields. In just the last few months, we’ve published pieces contextualizing mask use, about using Star Trek: Voyager in the high school history classroom, and an interview with the author of a best-selling George Washington biography.

CN: Your upcoming talk “Rise, Serve, Lead… And Publish: Including Women Physicians’ Writings in Rise, Serve, Lead: America’s Women Physicians” draws on your work on that exhibition. Why did you choose to talk about the publications specifically?

AB: Doctors’ professional discourse happens in medical journals, books, and at conferences. I really liked that the exhibit featured the biographies of hundreds of incredible, accomplished women. I also wanted to demonstrate that all of these women were active in their profession—conducting research, educating the public, or advocating for better health policy. Their biographies reflect that work but the publications are that work.

A timeline from 1959 to 2020 showing 9 publications.

CN: You’re focusing on three women in the talk, how are the differences in their careers reflected in their publications?

Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias, a Latina female, facing a crowd of mothers.
Dr. Rodríguez-Trías speaking to new mothers, ca. 1963
Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Look Magazine Photograph Collection, photograph by Jim Hansen

AB: I’m focusing on Dr. Rebecca Crumpler, Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias, and Dr. Frances Conley. In addition to different kinds of medical practices, each woman wrote in a different format. Crumpler positioned her book as a collection of insights from her personal journals published for the good of women and children. In the work of Rodriguz-Trias I’m looking at her journal articles. She wrote politically charged articles advancing health equity grounded in data, personal experience, and best practices that were aimed at her peers in the profession. And the publication of Dr. Conley’s that I focus on, her memoir Walking Out on the Boys, is a deeply personal reflection on the gendered nature of medical education and training. It is unlike her scientific writing but a powerful and persuasive piece of writing that’s resonant today.

CN: Is there a particular publication you want to highlight?

Title page of a printed book dated 1883.
A Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts by Rebecca Crumpler, M.D., 1883
National Library of Medicine #67521160R

AB: Yes, Dr. Crumpler’s A Book of Medical Discourses: In Two Parts! We have no photographs or portraits of Dr. Crumpler and only really know about her because of this book. In fact, this book helped establish that she was the first African American woman physician, a distinction previously attributed to Dr. Rebecca Cole. I think that’s such a testament to the power of published materials in establishing someone’s contribution to the field (and sometimes even their existence!)

CN: Why is it important that the National Library of Medicine preserve and provide access to these publications?

AB: I think that while it’s important to know about the women featured in Rise, Serve, Lead it is also important to engage with the work that they produced. Without these items, we cannot engage directly with the intellectual and professional work produced by the remarkable women who shaped medical history. Their books, articles, and memoirs allowed me to be in dialogue with them across time. Both Dr. Crumpler and Dr. Rodriguez-Trias’ writings are freely available online, in the library’s digital collections and PMC respectively. Dr. Conley’s book is not available online but is in the NLM’s general collection and is available to any researcher who visits the Library.

Ashley Bowen’s presentation is part of our NLM History Talks, which promote awareness and use of the National Library of Medicine and other historical collections for research, education, and public service in biomedicine, the social sciences, and the humanities. All talks are live-streamed globally, and subsequently archived, by NIH VideoCasting. Stay informed about NLM History Talks on Twitter at #NLMHistTalk.

2 comments

  1. I read Walking Out on the Boys- and had to skip some it was so depressing to me! Things are getting better for women physicians (especially in Pediatrics) as my daughter said in med school the only doctor that was abusive was equally abusive to male and female students!

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