“I answer to myself”: Dr. Florence Haseltine and her path to women’s health advocacy

 From the collections  Comments Off on “I answer to myself”: Dr. Florence Haseltine and her path to women’s health advocacy
Nov 142019

Florence Haseltine’s papers are now available to researchers. We encourage you to explore the full description and inventory. [LINK]

Dr. Florence Haseltine knew from a very young age that she was destined for great things.  Florence Pat Haseltine was born in 1942 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and grew up near the Naval Weapons Station in China Lake, California. She is the eldest child of William and Jean E. Haseltine and her father was a physicist for the military. Her experience growing up on a military base and within a neighborhood full of scientific households shaped her determination and set the course for her career as a biophysicist, reproductive endocrinologist, journal editor, novelist, inventor, and advocate for women’s health.

“I’m going to go to MIT and get a Ph.D. in physics. I said that at six, and that’s what I did.”

After graduating from High School, Dr. Haseltine attended college at the University of California at Berkeley, where she studied physics, then biophysics. Dr. Haseltine was one of only a few women in this academic major in a time when most physics majors were men. True to her six-year-old proclamations, Dr. Haseltine graduated from University of California at Berkeley in 1964 and was accepted in the Biophysics graduate program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT].

In defiance of her father’s and first husband’s objections, Dr. Haseltine resolved to fulfill yet another childhood dream: “I decided I was going to be a research doctor…I decided I was going to be a human geneticist when I was about 18, I realized that being a doctor was probably the best thing, that if I had a good science background, I would be, ‘unstoppable.’” After finishing at MIT, she applied to medical school and was accepted at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

After successfully completed her internship at the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia and her residency at the Boston Hospital for Women (now Brigham and Women’s Hospital) in 1976, Dr. Haseltine accepted a fellowship position at Yale University from 1976-1978. She later served as an assistant professor, then associate professor, in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Pediatrics at Yale University.

During her fellowship, Dr. Haseltine worked within Dr. Frank Ruddle’s lab where she learned to fuse mouse embryos and create mosaic mice. This work provided Dr. Haseltine with experience handling embryos and charted the course for her further research on in vitro fertilization. The Yale Fertility Center was one of the first IVF clinics in the United States and in 1983 it was the fifth lab in the nation to have an IVF baby.

Despite her qualifications and research involvement, Dr. Haseltine did not obtain tenure at Yale University. Dr. Haseltine characterized her experiences applying for jobs in the 1980s and 1990s as paving the way for other women: “Lot of things that were happening because I was female. I mean, during the period of the late 80s early 90s, when they wanted to have women interviewed for everything, I was a token on many many job interviews. And finally, that sort of stopped in the mid-90s… and you know you’re a token and all kinds of things show it, but you figure you might as well go through with it because maybe it will help people in the future… Since I know what women did ahead of me influenced what I could do, you can only hope that what you did helped some of them.”

From 1985 to 2012, Dr. Haseltine served as the Director of the Center for Population Research at the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health [NIH]. The health of women and their advancement professionally are central issues for Dr. Haseltine: “When I got to there [NIH], OB/GYN just was not considered a real field.” During her time at the NIH she worked with government lobbyist to help increase funding for women’s health research at the national level. In addition to working towards increased funding for women’s health research, Dr. Haseltine also spent her time at the NIH advocating for the increased participation of women in clinical trials. The direct result of Dr. Haseltine’s efforts was the creation of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the NIH in 1990.

“I have bought into the American idea that things should be equitable and it’s a very powerful idea in this country. It’s not true in other countries… Later in life, getting women in clinical trials was based on an equitable argument.”

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Further Resources

Legacy Center Materials:

Related materials located at an outside repository include:

The processing of the archival material at Drexel University Legacy Center was made possible by Dr. Florence Haseltine, M.D., Ph. D., Haseltine Systems, Inc., and the Conway-Welch Family Foundation. The Legacy Center would like to thank Dr. Haseltine for her generous support and commitment to preserving the history of women in medicine.

In addition, and in stride with Dr. Haseltine’s use of technology throughout her career, the Florence Haseltine papers include a variety of born digital materials. Project Archivist Sarah Oswald has taken this opportunity to research best practices, establish workflows, and explore the software necessary for launching the Legacy Center’s management of electronic records.

We Are Connected, History Connects Us.

 From the collections, Interns  Comments Off on We Are Connected, History Connects Us.
Nov 082019

by Caren Teague, Archives Intern

History in its entirety is the essence of all human connection. In my week-long journey as an intern here at Drexel’s Legacy Center Archives, I have explored a multitude of cased medical specimens, criticized a Barbie, and taken a stroll through 50 years of the life of Ruth Wilf, a practicing midwife. My time here has since embarked on a quest to evaluate my findings and explain the connections I have developed with each primary source I have come in contact with. This journey has allowed me to connect with others through history, and realize the deeper significance and impact of research. Let’s start with Barbie.

Dr. Barbies from 1987 and 1993

In July, a group of new employees came down to our department to take a tour of the archives. Directed by myself, Matt Herbison, and Sabrina Bocanegra, the group of young women was able to delve into the evolution of women representation in the medical field. They saw first-hand a senior thesis from Ann Preston at Woman’s Medical College of PA from 1851. We transcribed the memoir of Elizabeth Cisney Smith which explained the double standard and gender roles between her and her husband as physicians. We flipped through a sexualizing anatomy textbook that was banned from the shelves after its release in 1971, and we criticized Mattel Inc. and their sexist portrayal of “Doctor Barbie” in the 20th century. 

Ann Preston’s Medical school thesis, 1851

Throughout our time together, the members of our small group interconnected. We shared personal stories that one would never guess could relate, or have even happened, within our families. As we traveled through the archives we connected through experience, emotions, and opinions, and when we separated, we had formed a bond that would resonate with us forever. Now for Ruth.

Ruth Wilf, CNM, PhD, a birth educator and longtime midwife at Lifecycle WomanCare in Bryn Mawr (aka Bryn Mawr Birth Center), has recently become one of our donors of important archival material. At 88 years old, she has accumulated and provided to us a rich collection of books, training materials, photos, and all of the documentation that reflected her activities as a midwife. Before Ruth, I was not at all familiar with many of the technical or intimate details regarding childbirth. But just by skimming the titles of books, and finding small, but meaningful, notes to her I knew who she was. One thing that stuck with me was a photo album of births that she donated. Though a bit surprised at first, seeing such an intimate and beautiful moment in a photograph enlightened me, and exposed me to a world I had never been in before, I felt as though I knew her patients just as well as she did. Seen here are photos of one of many births captured by Ruth. Faces have been blurred for privacy reasons.

Ms. Wilf is addressed by many in such high regard. I reviewed notes sent to her expressing gratitude and thanking her for inspiration and dedication to her practice, women, and the African-American community. She has worked for different entities throughout her life, and she has dedicated decades to public service and compassion in her field. I have never physically met Ms. Wilf, however, after several hours of cataloging some of the hundreds of books that she donated to us here at the Legacy Center, I feel as though I have known her all her life. While I have never met the honorable Ms. Ruth Wilf, when I do, I know that I will recognize her. Through her history, I have developed a spiritual connection with her. Through my week-long journey, I have been inspired, enlightened, and connected. So thank you Drexel, and thank you, Dr. Wilf. And if you the reader, ever come in contact with her, tell her my name is Caren, and I am an admirer.

 Posted by on November 8, 2019