Kirsten Utheim Toverud (1890-1949)

Kirsten Utheim Toverud
Kirsten Utheim Toverud
(Photo courtesy of the Toverud family)

Kirsten Utheim was born Jan. 10, 1890 in Veblungsnes, on the western coast of Norway. In 1900 she moved with her family to Oslo where she attended to public school. After graduating with her medical degree in 1916 from the University of Norway in Oslo, she served as resident in different hospitals in Norway before traveling to the United States in 1919. Utheim spent two months at the Children’s Medical Division of Bellevue Hospital in New York City before accepting an offer from Dr. W. McKim Marriott for a position as a fellow in Pediatrics, becoming one of the first women on the faculty of the Washington University School of Medicine. The research she conducted under Marriott dealt with chronic nutritional disturbances of infants, particularly kwashiorkor, a severe protein-energy malnutrition produced by severe protein deficiency.

In November 1919 Utheim was promoted to assistant in Pediatrics, and her salary was doubled from $500 to $1,000 a year. In June 1920 Dr. Utheim was promoted to instructor in Pediatrics, and her salary doubled again to $2,000 a year. Utheim was also appointed a physician to Out Patients in the Washington University Dispensary that year. In December 1922 Utheim became the first woman physician appointed to a staff position in Pediatrics at both Barnes Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

In 1922 Utheim married Guttorm Toverud, a Norwegian dentist conducting research at Harvard University. On March 1, 1923, Toverud resigned her positions, and she and her husband returned to their native Norway. Kirsten Utheim Toverud received her specialty in Pediatrics in 1923; two years later she obtained her Ph.D. degree, based in part on her research in St. Louis.

Medical staff, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, ca. 1919
Medical staff, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, ca. 1919

Kirsten Utheim Toverud served as Associate Pediatrician-in-Chief at the National Hospital in Oslo from 1923-1926. In 1924 she became Physician-in-Charge of a residential treatment center for diabetic children where she emphasized the need for children to have their insulin dose and diet adjusted while they attended school and participated in outdoor sports and play, a novel idea at that time. In 1928 she became Instructor in Physiology and Nutrition at the Dental School of Norway. She continued in this position and was promoted to Associate Professor there in 1939.

Also in 1939 Toverud became Physician-in-Charge of a new “Well-baby-and Mother” clinic created by the city of Oslo, the purpose of which was to attempt to combat infant mortality, premature deaths and rickets, and improve nutrition of pregnant women which would then lead to improved health of the new-born infants.

In 1948 Toverud spent several months working with Dr. Icy Macy Hoobler at Children’s Fund of Michigan in Detroit, working on a monograph on maternal and child nutrition. In January 1949 she returned to the United States to the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where she was given a Research Professor position to continue work on the monograph on maternal and child nutrition. She died there of cancer in July 1949, having almost finished the monograph.

Toverud was known internationally for her long and distinguished career in the study and treatment of childhood diabetes and of maternal and child nutrition. Her scientific publications appeared in German, American and Norwegian journals and included articles on the prevention of rickets and dental caries, anemia in pregnant and nursing mothers, vitamin B and C metabolism in pregnancy, and vitamin K administration prior to parturition for prevention of neonatal bleeding.

Back to Biographies