The First Women on Staff at St. Louis Children’s Hospital

Because of the affiliation between the Washington University School of Medicine and both Barnes Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital, the Executive Faculty of the medical school was responsible for appointments to the staff of both hospitals. On November 19, 1917, the Executive Faculty agreed that women could be given house staff positions.

Dr. Edith Maas, a 1916 graduate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, was the first woman appointed to a house staff position at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Maas was to begin July 1, 1918, as assistant resident physician. However she resigned from the position in April 1918, before even beginning. Maas returned to her native New York City and began a long and distinguished career in medicine, specializing in pediatrics and the treatment of childhood tuberculosis.

Female interns were appointed to the staff beginning in 1918. The first three women were Drs. Katharine Krom Merritt, Martha May Eliot, and Mary A. Wright. All three received their medical degrees from Johns Hopkins Medical School, yet all three had to seek internships elsewhere since Johns Hopkins did not allow female interns at that time.

Katharine Krom Merritt (1886-1986) served a one-year internship at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in 1918-19. Merritt, a native of Stamford, Connecticut, graduated from Vassar College in 1908 and Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1917. After her internship in St. Louis, Merritt returned to the East Coast, operating a private pediatric practice in New York City from 1920 to 1933. She was an associate attending pediatrician at Babies Hospital of the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, a lecturer at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and an attending pediatrician at the Vanderbilt Clinic, all in Manhattan. Merritt also served as a consultant to the medical staff of Stamford Hospital. With her sister, Louise Dalton, Merritt founded the Stamford branch of Family and Children’s Service.

Martha M. Eliot
Martha M. Eliot, ca. 1919

Dr. Martha M. Eliot (1891-1978), the granddaughter of Washington University founder William Greenleaf Eliot, was a 1918 graduate of Johns Hopkins University Medical School. She served as a pediatric resident at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in 1919-20. She left for Yale University, where she taught in the Department of Pediatrics from 1921 to 1935. During most of that time Eliot also directed the National Children’s Bureau Division of Child and Maternal Health. Eliot later joined the Children’s Bureau full time, and served as its chief from 1951 to 1956. In 1934 Dr. Eliot drafted most of the Social Security Act’s language dealing with maternal and child health. During the Second World War Eliot administered the Emergency Maternity and Infant Care program, which provided maternity care for more than one million servicemen’s wives. Eliot helped found the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), of which she was Assistant Director-General from 1949 to 1951. In 1957 Eliot was appointed professor and head of the Department of Maternal and Child Health at the Harvard School of Public Health, a position which she held until her retirement in 1961.

Martha M. Eliot was widely recognized for her contributions in developing services and preventive measures on behalf of children’s health. She was one of the first women admitted into the American Pediatric Society, and received that organization’s top honor, the Howland Medal, in 1967. In 1947 Eliot was the first woman elected president of the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the following year was the recipient of the Lasker Award. In 1964, the APHA established the Martha May Eliot Award, an annual prize recognizing achievements in maternal and child health care.

Mary A. Wright
Mary Wright, ca. 1919

After her internship at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in 1919-20, Dr. Mary A. Wright returned to her native Massachusetts, where she worked at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, and then later as a pediatrician in Newton, Massachusetts. Mary Wright died in Boston in 1929 of septicemia.