by John Anderies, our marvelous volunteer
Following their first demanding year at Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, the women of the class of 1944 were rewarded with a trip to Somerton Airport in northeast Philadelphia. There, Professor of Anatomy Hartwig Kuhlenbeck, himself a licensed pilot, took the young women on flights in his Challenger biplane. A German immigrant who later served in the United States Army Medical Corps during WWII, Kuhlenbeck kept a detailed Tagbuch or Daybook for much of his life:
Donnerstag, Freitag und Sonnabend, den 29., 30., und 31. Mai fliege ich zu Somerton in meinem Challenger zahlreiche kurze Passagierfluge fur meine Studentinnen vom Woman’s Medical College. Ich habe zum Schluss dieses akademischen Jahres die Klasse des ersten Studienjahres – die “freshman class” – zu einem Fluge eingeladen und wir haben diese Klasse von 39 Studentinnen hierzu in drei Gruppen auf drei aufeinanderfolgende Tage verteilt – ich kann bei jedem Fluge je zwei Passagiere im vorderen Cockpit unterbringen. Auch meine Assistentinnen und die Laborantin sind bei dieser Veranstaltung einbegriffen.1
On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, the 29th, 30th, and 31st of May, I’m flying many short passenger flights in my Challenger at Somerton for my students from the Woman’s Medical College. For the end of this academic year, I invited the first-year class (the “freshman class”) to take a flight, and we’ve divided this class of thirty-nine students into three groups on three successive days. I can accommodate two passengers in the front cockpit on each flight. My assistants and laboratory technician are also included in this event.
The class of 1944 was originally composed of 41 women. During this weekend of sailing through the skies, none would have expected the changes that were to come. According to an oral history interview conducted with one classmate, almost a third of the women had to drop out of medical school because they contracted tuberculosis. Most of these women did not make it back to finish their degrees. Sadly, at least two of the women died of the disease.
Tagenbuchblaetter, 1938-1941. Hartwig Kuhlenbeck papers. Drexel University College of Medicine, Legacy Center: Archives and Special Collections on Women in Medicine and Homeopathy. ↩