The Story of Dr. Doris Bartuska: Sexism in Medicine during the 1950s to 1980s

 Digital history, From the collections  Comments Off on The Story of Dr. Doris Bartuska: Sexism in Medicine during the 1950s to 1980s
Aug 082017
 

-By Sabrina Kistler, Intern

Doris Bartuska, MD circa 1987.

As the granddaughter to a strong and influential woman physician, I never fully realized the fight women physicians underwent, and still face today, to bring society to a place of acceptance and equality for women in medicine. My grandmother, Dr. Doris Bartuska, worked throughout her career in endocrinology to best serve her patients, students, and ambitions, while dealing with sexism during the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. As a woman born in a small town, Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, she graduated with her medical degree from Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1954 where she subsequently completed her internship and residency. She joined the WMC faculty in 1958 where she served as an Associate Dean for Curriculum, President of the Medical Staff, member of the Board of Directors, and President of the Alumni Association. In addition, Dr. Bartuska was the Director of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, & Metabolism while also serving as the Director of the Endocrine Fellowship Training Program. Dr. Bartuska also believed in the importance of organized medicine, as shown by her roles as President of the American Medical Women’s Association, Delegate to the American Medical Association, President of the Philadelphia Medical Society, and many more. Throughout her career as a physician, teacher, and leader, she has helped pave the way for female physicians in the world today through her struggles against sexism in the medical community.

Doris Bartuska, MD during rounds circa 1983.

While medicine has since made long strides in accepting women into its community, that wasn’t the case 50 years ago. During her medical school interviews, Dr. Bartuska was asked questions such as “do you plan on getting married?” and “are you going to have children?” questions not remotely related to one’s qualifications to become a doctor. While these questions may have seemed harmless, their answers could have drastic impact on whether you would be accepted or denied into their school. Even when she attended Woman’s Med, an all female medical school, Dr. Bartuska still noticed the discrimination of women from pregnant medical students being picked on to female faculty members receiving lower wages and lacking support from male faculty chairs. Dr. Bartuska faced additional adversity during her fellowship at Thomas Jefferson in Philadelphia, an all male medical school at the time, where she was called mommy Bartuska by her male peers. Eventually through her skill with consultations, she was able prove her worth and loose the nickname, but the lack of respect and acceptance she faced at the beginning would never be forgotten.

Doris Bartuska, MD receiving the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching circa 1974

Even throughout her professional career in organized medicine, Dr. Bartuska underwent many setbacks due to her gender. During her campaign for President of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, she was the target of a smear campaign due to the fact that she was a women. Her fellow male colleagues would call saying they heard negative things about her, most likely of a sexual nature, eventually causing her to drop out of the race. While this attack could have been based on other factors besides her gender, if she had been elected she would have been the first female president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, suggesting her gender was at least partly the cause for this attack. Dr. Bartuska also frequently found her name being presumptuously changed to Boris Bartuska, a male name, showing that women were still not traditionally considered to be physicians even in the 70s. Whether through mail or the introduction for her American Medical Association speech, this male name followed her throughout her career. While announcing her has Boris Bartuska during her AMA delegation speech may have been surprising and reflective of the adversity she still had yet to face, it worked out in her favor and eventually got her elected as a delegate to the AMA.  Through her time with the AMA, she had worked with her fellow female delegates to increase the number of full time female delegates and to establish and grow the original Women’s Caucus, now the Women Physicians Section. 

While a smart and capable physician, Dr. Bartuska faced a lot of adversity throughout her life as a doctor. During her time in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, she experienced sexism towards women in both the professional and medical community. Although her experiences may not have been as severe as others that came before her, it is evident that women still faced many struggles only a short time ago. It is clear there is still work to be done for having women fully represented and equalized in the medical and professional world but it is through women like my grandmother that have lead us closer to the finish line for equality.

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Dr. Doris Bartuska’s archive collection can be found at The Legacy Center at Drexel College of Medicine’s Queen Lane Campus. Please use the following links for more information on her collection and transcripts for her two oral histories completed in 1977 and 2003.

Doris Bartuska Papers Finding Aid

Interview with Doris Bartuska, M.D., April 4 & 5, 1977

Oral History Interview with Doris Bartuska, M.D., May 15, 2003

If you would like to research any of these topics or items, please contact archives@drexelmed.edu

“Modern Miracle Women: Dr. Catharine Macfarlane a Leader in the Fight Against Cancer

 From the collections  Comments Off on “Modern Miracle Women: Dr. Catharine Macfarlane a Leader in the Fight Against Cancer
Apr 182017
 

– Exhibit by guest blogger, intern Jessica Walker

All materials from the Catharine Macfarlane Collection, unless noted in gallery at bottom

Although routine pelvic and breast exams are standard now, that hasn’t always been the case.  In the early 20th century, doctors commonly thought that healthy women wouldn’t submit themselves to periodic examination without cause.  Dr. Catherine Macfarlane, however, thought that the modern American woman would, and she was going to prove it.  In 1938 she received a grant from the American Medical Association to study periodic examinations to detect early appearances of carcinoma.  The study lasted for 15 years.  Dr. Macfarlane made a lasting impact on early cancer screening and prevention.  Pelvic and breast exams are now a routine part of female physical health.  Through the research clinic operated by Dr. Macfarlane, it was proved that early, routine examinations lead to early detection, and therefore treatment, of many types of cancers specific to women.

 

In July 1937 Catharine Macfarlane attended the Medical Women’s International Association Fourth Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland. There she participated in a discussion on the screening and prevention of pelvic cancer. She lamented that many of the doctors participating found it unlikely that women in their countries would not submit to preventative screenings. American women, she thought, would, and she set out to prove it by opening the first cancer prevention clinic in Pennsylvania, one of the first in the country.

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Dr. Macfarlane was often praised as one of the forerunners in the fight against cancer.  The Cancer Control Research Clinic operated by herself, Dr. Margaret Sturgis and Dr. Faith Fetterman began in 1938 and involved a study of over 1,300 women.  By the time Dr. Macfarlane closed the research clinic, over 200 such centers existed around the country.

 

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Throughout the study, Doctors Macfarlane, Sturgis and Fetterman published several articles on their findings from the clinic.  This was one of the first articles, published in the Medical Women’s Journal in 1942.

 

 

Doctors Catharine Macfarlane and Margaret Sturgis at the Cancer Control Research Clinic, circa 1959

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to doing the work of research on the positive effects of early screenings and writing papers, Dr. Macfarlane also gave talks on the results of the cancer prevention clinic.

 

 

 

 

 

Doctor Macfarlane at an exhibit on cancer, circa 1949

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite what the doctors at the MWIA meeting thought, women in American were willing and eager to participate in preventative screenings.  The experiment was a resounding success.  It drew the attention of not only medical professionals, but laypeople as well.  The results of the prevention clinic were reported on by newspapers and magazines from around the country.

 

 

from the Cancer Bulletin, circa 1951

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though her initial focus was on pelvic exams, Dr. Macfarlane expanded the focus of the research clinic in the 1950s to include a study of breast exams and self-examination performed by the women themselves.  She found that women were able to detect abnormalities just as soon as a doctor could.

 

Exhibit Gallery:

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