Women in Medicine & Science

In 1961, Jefferson Medical College, now known as the Sidney Kimmel Medical College (SKMC), opened its doors to female students for the first time. Since then, SKMC has increased its representation of female students, faculty members and senior leaders to be on par with national standards or better. In the coming years, we look forward to making even greater contributions to advancing the status of women in medicine.

Women represent half of all medical students today, but does that mean women have completely caught up with men in medicine?

Last year, the Association of American Medical Colleges reported that women comprised 48% of accepted applicants and 49% of graduates; in 1965, women comprised just nine percent of accepted applicants and seven percent of graduates.

Today, nearly 40% of U.S. physicians are women, but this milestone wasn't reached without difficulty. Female physicians who earned their degrees when men still greatly outnumbered them often recall blatant discrimination and harassment.

Currently, women serve as Deans at 16 U.S. medical schools (12%). The count, which includes one acting and two interim Deans, shows significant growth from a decade ago, when only five percent of schools had female Deans.

Thomas Jefferson University alumnae have become academic leaders, renowned surgeons and dedicated humanitarians, caring for the underserved not only in their communities but around the world.

Timeline of Women in Medicine

1824 Sidney Kimmel Medical College (SKMC) (previously Jefferson Medical College) is founded, making Philadelphia the only city in the world with two medical Colleges (University of Pennsylvania College of Medicine was established in 1765).
1826 The first class graduates from SKMC. The Program, for the first doctors in the U.S. trained in clinical care practice, established by Thomas Jefferson University's founder, George McClellan, MD.
1847 Elizabeth Blackwell admitted to Geneva Medical College as an "experiment." Elizabeth Blackwell first woman to receive a MD in 1849. Geneva ends "experiment" and subsequently does not admit any women.

Sarah R. Adamson’s application to Jefferson Medical College is rejected.

". . . it would be impossible in this country for a lady to mingle with 500 young men . . . in the same lecture room, without experiencing many annoyances."

In future, all applications by women are forwarded to Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Dr. Adamson (Dolley) would be the first American-born woman to earn a MD in 1851.

1850 First school to grant women MDs: Female Medical College of Pennsylvania founded. Renamed Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (MCP) and is the last medical school to go coed in 1970 as MCP. Became Drexel University College of Medicine in 2002.
1869 Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania applies and receives permission to have its women students attend a clinic at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Hospital. Near riot ensues by hundreds of male medical students from Jefferson Medical College and University of Pennsylvania who protest the “mixed” class. Joint faculties of the male schools publish a “Remonstrance” against women students in clinics.
1870 JMC Catalog” publishes a repudiation of “a mean and malicious falsehood” of a circulated item in Southern newspapers that “Jefferson . . . will make no distinction of sex or color, among applicants for admission . . .”
1873 Jefferson Medical College Dean John Biddle responds to a woman applicant in his speech to the students at College opening, denying her admission due to the “inferiority of a feebler and more delicate physical organization.”
1891 Jefferson Medical College Hospital establishes School of Nursing (which closes in 1982).

First graduate listed in the class of 1893 was Mary Armstrong.
1894 Jefferson Medical College Hospital’s Board of Lady Managers established. Its first project raises funds for a Maternity Clinic. Organization renamed Women’s Board in 1921.

1910 Flexner Report reviews all U.S. medical schools and gives Jefferson Medical College an A- rating. Many schools that accept women and minorities are closed, and Flexner advises surviving schools to merge.
1918 Meeting of the Jefferson Medical College Faculty adopts approval for co-education. Discussion between faculties of Jefferson Medical College and Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania results in a 1919 report proposing to share teachers and facilities in an affiliation “without the loss of identity.” No further action is taken.
1946 Attempt to merge Jefferson Medical College with Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP) is rejected by WMCP Alumnae Association.

1950 First non-medical graduate degree granted to a woman from Jefferson College of Graduate Studies was given to Sonia Schorr for her MS in Bacteriology.
1952 Elizabeth Bogardus, MD is the first woman resident appointed to Jefferson Medical College Hospital.
1959 A federal self-assessment review is distributed to all U.S. medical schools. “The Surgeon General’s Consultant Group on Medical Education” (Bane Report) cites Jefferson Medical College (JMC) as the last medical college to deny women entry.

William Goodner
moves to admit women to JMC every year and is rejected annually, until unanimous vote passes September 28, 1959. Board of Trustees approves the recommendation on May 23, 1960.
1961 Admission approved for nine women to Jefferson Medical College on September 11, 1961. Faculty approves two incoming women “freshmen” to receive assistance in loans and scholarships.
1965 Graduation of first eight women students (one woman transferred to another school) on June 12 at the Academy of Music. Nancy Szwec Czarnecki is first woman listed to receive her diploma.
1968 Martha Southard becomes first woman to be full professor at Jefferson Medical College (Radiation Therapy Department, Clinical Division).
1970 Women’s Equity Action League brings class action suit against every U.S. medical school to address affirmative action and antidiscrimination cases.
1974 Cora LeEthel Christian becomes the first African American woman to be a Jefferson Medical College graduate.
1974 The 1961 Society” is organized at Jefferson Medical College (JMC) by “a group of women medical students.” The Society aims include fostering communication among women medical students at various stages of their careers, between doctors and nurses for the better treatment of patients, and increasing enrollment of PA women at JMC. Open to women and men from all health professions.
1982 Leah M. Lowenstein becomes first woman Dean of Jefferson Medical College and first woman dean of any U.S. coeducational medical school.
1988 Board of Trustees initiates adding a female member from recent alumni. Patricia M. Curtin, Class of 1988, becomes the first female trustee.
1989 First woman Jefferson Medical College Alumni President elected, Nancy Szwec Czarnecki, Class of 1965.

2002 Marion J. Siegman, PhD, becomes first woman Chair of a Basic Science Department (Physiology).
2002 Vijay M. Rao, MD named first woman Chair of a Clinical Department (Radiology).
2003 Women surpass men in numbers enrolled in freshmen class.
2011 Fiftieth anniversary celebration of admission of women to Jefferson Medical College is held.

Women of the Class of '65

Nancy S. Czarnecki distinguished herself as a Jefferson Medical College (JMC) alumna by serving as Chairperson of the Alumni Trustee Committee and Chairperson of the Career Day Committee for over 17 years. She chaired the Women’s Forum Committee as an annual event to allow female medical students to network and learn, in detail, the advantages and disadvantages of various specialties. Dr. Czarnecki served on the Council of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and on the University Board of Trustees as an Alumni Trustee. She joined in 2003, replacing Allen Chandler (Class of '61) when he completed his term of service. Dr. Czarnecki has been very active on the Alumni Association Executive Committee since 1974; she was the first woman to serve as President of the Jefferson Medical College Alumni Association. She served as president in 1989-90.

Dr. Czarnecki was the first of nine women accepted to matriculate to JMC in 1961. She officially became the first woman graduate after she married Joseph E. Czarnecki in 1963, allowing the alphabetical change to her name. She had become aware that JMC would admit women students in 1961 because of a notice in the Philadelphia newspapers while she was an undergraduate at Temple University. Then Nancy S. Szwec, she was the first of the nine to accept her place at JMC that year. Before she graduated in 1965, she had married and taken the name Czarnecki. She graduated as an Alpha Omega Alpha honor student and continued her training at Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia. She entered a partnership of family practice with her physician husband and raised four children. Her oldest son, Joseph (Class of ’95), also achieved Alpha Omega Alpha honor status as a Thomas Jefferson University Junior in 1993. He is distinguished in earning a Super Bowl Ring with the New England Patriots (’05) and a World Series ring with the Boston Red Sox (’07) during his Harvard sports orthopedic.

Dr. Czarnecki was Patient Management Medical Director, Northeast Region, Northern New Jersey for Aetna U.S. Healthcare. She has held posts of increasing responsibility with Aetna, and previously with Prudential HealthCare as Senior Medical Director. From 1966 to 1992, she was in the private practice of family medicine in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia, along with her husband, Dr. Joseph E. Czarnecki. She is board certified and a Fellow of the American Board of Family Medicine. She served in Community outreach positions while on the staff of Northeastern Hospital. Her patients loved being referred to Jefferson. She retired from Aetna in 2008. She currently serves in an advisory committee position on the Women’s Forum Committee of the Alumni Association of Sidney Kimmel Medical College, which is chaired by Marianne Ritchie Gordon Jefferson Medical College, ’80. This group is composed of Jefferson Medical College alumnae, who organize the women in medicine events for alumnae activities and serve as a resource for Thomas Jefferson University alumnae. She has served as reunion chairman for her JMC class since 1970 and has thoroughly enjoyed talking to her classmates over the past 40 years.

She is now retired and lives in Venice, FL, spending summers in Brigantine, NJ. Among her most enjoyable activities are being with her eight grandchildren, birding, book reviews, attending plays and operas and walking the beach with her husband.

“May God Bless Jefferson and the USA.”
Nancy S. Czarnecki, MD, JMC ’65

Dr. Carolyn Parry is a Pennsylvania native, graduating from Abington Friends School in 1957. She attended Beaver College, completing her BS in 1961.  She then continued her education at Jefferson Medical College, becoming a member of the first class to accept women.  After graduation in 1965, Dr. Parry completed an internship at Chestnut Hill Hospital, and then returned to Thomas Jefferson University to complete her residency in Radiology.

Dr. Parry went on to become an Assistant Professor in Radiology at Jefferson Medical College, and subsequently a Clinical Associate Professor of Radiology at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Medicine.

She served a year as Assistant Physician in the Department of Radiology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. At Pennsylvania Hospital, Dr. Parry became an Associate Radiologist, a member of the Executive Committee, Chairman of the Credentials Committee, Radiology Residency Program Director, Deputy Chairman of the Department of Radiology (1986-97) and Acting Chairman (1997-98).

During her time at Pennsylvania Hospital, Dr. Parry established and directed a Breast Imaging Center, which prided itself on providing prompt results and establishing a treatment plan for abnormal findings before the patient left the center. This was the first mammography center in Philadelphia to provide this type of personalized service.

Dr. Parry served as a member of the Advisory Board of the School of Radiologic Technology, Chairman of the Subcommittee for Advanced Studies Program in Radiologic Technology, Co-Chairperson of the Program Committee for the American Thermographic Society Annual Meeting, as well as holding membership in a number of professional and scientific societies. She has a number of peer-reviewed research publications, and, among her honors, was awarded a fellowship in the American College of Radiology in 1994.

After her year as Acting Chairman of the Department of Radiology, Dr. Parry retired from Pennsylvania Hospital in 1998. Six months later, she returned to work for two to three days a week at Lehigh Valley Hospital in the section of Breast Health services, finally retiring in 2003.

Dr. Parry is known at home as Mrs. Decker. She and her husband have been married for 43 years. They have two grown children and two grandchildren. She and her husband obtained their airplane pilot licenses in 1987 and their helicopter licenses in 2003. They fly to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Calgary, Alberta, California, Florida and other destinations. She enjoys sewing, and makes quilts of various sizes and clothes for her granddaughter's dolls.

Dr. Edelstein practices as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, working with children, adolescents and adults in the Jenkintown suburb of Philadelphia. She graduated from Jefferson Medical College in 1965. She completed her internship at Bryn Mawr and did her residency training in Psychiatry at Hahnemann University Hospital and Albert Einstein Medical Center. Her analytic training was at Philadelphia Association for Psychoanalysis.

Dr. Edelstein also has significant experience in the arts, having studied and performed modern ballet from age 4 to age 20. She has conducted several taped interviews for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation and has had roles in several independent films and a TV pilot, namely “Fidelity Hall.” She started to study acting at the Walnut Street Theater and is currently working with the Actors’ Center. She has been quoted saying, “My brightest achievement is to have raised three (now adult) children who are bright, decent, productive, very caring people, not to mention a lot of fun.” Dr. Edelstein also has three grandchildren.

Dr. Mary Elizabeth Knepp was born in 1939 in Bedford, PA and resided in Monroe County, PA for most of her life. One of eight women graduates of Thomas Jefferson University’s Class of 1965 and a member of Jefferson’s “Century Club,” Dr. Knepp further distinguished herself through involvement in her community, both as a professional and as a physician. Dr. Knepp was a longtime member of the Christ Episcopal Church in Stroudsburg and was an active member of the Monroe County Medical Society. She completed a Transitional Year at Philadelphia General Hospital and a residency in Dermatology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. She held free skin cancer screenings in May 1987 in honor of "Skin Cancer/ Melanoma Detection Month" at Pocono Hospital. Of roughly 150 patients she examined during these screenings, 30 were found to have skin cancer. Dr. Knepp practiced dermatology in Monroe County until 2002.

Dr. Knepp’s role in academic medicine is made evident by her 1980 article in the Archives of Dermatology, Pseudoatrophoderma Colli: A Familial Case, which details a very rare papillary dermatosis seen primarily in women. Her role as Instructor in Dermatology & Cutaneous Biology at Thomas Jefferson University from 1999-2001 undoubtedly would have made her father proud. He was Thomas H. Knepp, a teacher of science himself and something of a naturalist. His book The Poconos: A Handbook and Guide to Pennsylvania’s Vacation Land seems to have influenced Mary, as she herself later contributed to the book Stroudsburgs in the Poconos, by Marie and Frank Summa. Dr. Knepp was an avid reader.

Dr. Mary Elizabeth Knepp died at the age of 67 on Feb. 26, 2007 at Golden Living Center in East Stroudsburg. She was buried in Kellers Cherry Valley Cemetery. To the end, her spirit of generosity prevailed. She requested memorial donations be given to the East Stroudsburg Salvation Army in lieu of flowers.

Margaret M. Libonati wanted to be a physician from an early age. The funds for college weren’t available when she graduated from high school, and with little guidance for her future, she attended nursing school with plans to work her way through college and medical school. Upon graduation from St. Joseph’s Nursing School, she enrolled as a chemistry major in the Pre-Med program at Chestnut Hill College. At the end of her second year she learned that Jefferson Medical College was planning to accept women for the first time. She immediately applied, becoming one of nine pioneering women in Thomas Jefferson University's Class of 1965.

Graduation from Thomas Jefferson University was followed by a rotating internship at Philadelphia General Hospital (one of 100 interns). She then completed a two year residency in Anesthesia as part of the PGH-Penn Program.

She obtained a clinical fellowship in London, where she studied under the leadership of Dr. W. D. Wylie, the Dean of the Faculty of Anesthetists of Great Britain, and his associates at St. Thomas Hospital and Great Ormand Street Hospital in Pediatrics. Upon returning to Philadelphia, she began a research fellowship at The University of Pennsylvania. Her training completed, she went on to an assistant professorship at the University of Colorado.

In 1972 she met and married Dr. John Leahy, the head of Anesthesia at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. She returned to her hometown as Assistant Professor at The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. When motherhood intervened, she worked part time at Wills Eye Hospital and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, eventually taking a position as Associate Director of Anesthesia and Medical Director of Day Surgery at Wills Eye Hospital.

Libonati’s publications include works from her research on cardiovascular and hepatic effects of anesthesia while at University of Pennsylvania, original research on anesthesia for open eye injuries conducted while at Wills Eye Hospital and chapters about anesthesia for pediatric eye surgery in Ophthalmic Surgical Volumes.

She is currently retired, and spends her free time in the garden and/or enjoying the company of her children and grandchildren.

Carol Miller, a renowned neuropathologist, began her research career as a medical student in the laboratory of Dr. Allan Erslev at Thomas Jefferson University. In 1965, she was one of the first eight women to graduate from Thomas Jefferson University. Following her graduation, she completed a rotating internship at Philadelphia General Hospital and a residency in Anatomic Pathology at Washington University School of Medicine. She then completed fellowships in neuropathology at Washington University School of Medicine and neuropathology and cell biology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY. In 1972, she became Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Einstein. Since then, she has tirelessly pursued the study of neuropathology as a professor, researcher and pathologist.

In 1977, Dr. Miller moved to Los Angeles and joined the Pathology faculty at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC). She has published over 80 peer-reviewed papers in her field. In 1983, she and her late husband, the famous Caltech geneticist Seymour Benzer, published a landmark paper using monoclonal antibodies that showed genetic and molecular evolutionary conservation among species, in this case between the Drosphila (fly) and the human CNS. Her research has long focused on neurospecificity in the human CNS in normal and neurodegenerative diseases. It includes signal transduction and differential gene expression in early vs. late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, and in other dementing diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Miller has received many prestigious awards for her work, including the Alzheimer’s Disease Association Researcher of the Year, the Simon Gratz Research Prize, and the NIMH MERIT award. All of these strides were made while Dr. Miller maintained an active level of clinical consulting, teaching and administrative duties as Chief of Neuropathology at the Los Angeles County USC Medical Center, and attending physician at the Norris Cancer Hospital and Hospital of the University of Southern California.

Today, Dr. Miller is Professor of Pathology and Neurology at the University of Southern California. She has been Co-Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and is now Director of the Neuropathology Core. Dr. Miller holds positions on the boards of many organizations, most recently, the John Douglas French Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation Scientific Advisory Board.

An active lecturer and member of her scientific community, Carol Miller is an energetic woman who has made her mark on Neuropathology during a time when she was required to be a successful researcher, while breaking into a male-dominated field. She has raised three sons, each of whom have successful careers in science or computer software design. She enjoys singing choral music, performing in several choral groups, and exploring the ethnic foods of Los Angeles.

Joyce E. Price, born in 1927 in Altoona, PA, earned her MD from Jefferson Medical College in 1965 with just eight other female classmates. Unlike some of her peers; however, Price began her medical school career already familiar with the ins and outs of medicine. In 1955, she co-authored a paper in the Journal of Thoracic Surgery, "Pulmonary ventilation during open thoracotomy: inflation and deflation time ratios and pressures.” She worked with renowned surgeons Dr. John Y. Templeton and Dr. John Gibbon Jr. in 1958 as a nurse, and is credited for technical assistance in Gibbon’s paper "Cardiac Output Under General Anesthesia: Effect of Mean Endotracheal Pressure" in the Annals of Surgery. Dr. Price entered the field of surgery in 1970 after she completed a vascular fellowship at Thomas Jefferson University.

She was a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. Dr. Price retired from her very active surgical practice in Farmington, New Mexico in 1993 and commented then that "it seems as though it was last year when I graduated.”  In her early retirement, Dr. Price embraced her love for travel by spending a month in Russia. Throughout her life, she also enjoyed literature, horseback riding and playing the flute. Dr. Joyce Evaline Price died in her home among friends and family in November 2006, at the age of 79. It was stated in her obituary that “Farmington has truly lost a great lady and physician."

Dr. Amilu Stewart is a dedicated surgeon who has always urged the community to become more service-oriented. Amilu Stewart was married with a newborn baby when she entered the first class of women who later graduated from Jefferson Medical College in 1965. She had her second child when she was a third year medical student and was only able to take a week off, or she would have lost her place in school. She pursued her residency in general surgery and her fellowship in transplantation surgery at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Colorado Springs, CO.

She maintained an active position as lecturer and professor in surgery for 28 years at the University of Colorado, retiring as an assistant professor in 1990. She encouraged the community that “as future changes in society occur and history confirms that change will occur, it is going to take perseverance and cooperation on the part of men and women to maintain an extraordinary view from the summit of this gratifying, lofty mountain” (Presidential address for the Western Surgical Association, Rothhammer, 2001). Dr. Stewart served as Director of the Emergency Department at Washington [Adventist] Hospital, Takoma Park, MD (1970–1972).

In addition to being a mother of four, she served as President of the ACS Colorado Chapter and President of the Western Surgical Association. She helped found some prestigious organizations, such as the Colorado Physician’s Insurance Company in 1980 and the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Foundation. At Penrose [St. Francis Health Services], Dr. Stewart held the position of Chief of the Department of Surgery (1995).

Even after retiring, Dr. Stewart continued to use her surgical skills for the good of the community. She volunteers at Peak Vista Community Health Centers, providing office-based surgery to families in need in that region. Naturally, her exceptional work has not gone unnoticed. Dr. Stewart has received numerous awards, most recently the American College of Surgeons Distinguished Service award in 2010. She has served in numerous ACS leadership roles both nationally and locally.

Giving to the 1961 Fund

The 1961 Fund was established on the 50th anniversary of the first admission of women to Sidney Kimmel Medical College.

The fund will be endowed and the income will be used at the discretion of the Dean of the Sidney Kimmel Medical College to provide support for research in women’s health and for the professional development of Sidney Kimmel Medical College women faculty and students.

To make a gift, donate online or call (215) 955-6620. (Indicate you would like to support the 1961 Fund by specifying in the "Additional notes" field.)