My lecture first and foremost was to honor one of the greatest pioneers in American surgery, Olga Jonasson, a role model for so many women surgeons including myself.
In choosing to speak of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman surgeon in England, I compared her life and the obstacles she faced in her determination to be a surgeon to some of the struggles in my own life and surgical career. We became “close” in, for example, having the same last name and fighting opposition from unenlightened men. The origins of our stimuli to become surgeons were very different but our determination to do so without actively planning to be pioneers were similar.
Both of us were encouraged by our fathers and discouraged by our [step] mothers. I did not undergo the same struggle to be admitted to medical school as did Elizabeth but we both reveled in teaching and helping men as well as women in their careers.
Elizabeth received full recognition very late in her career; I was fortunate to benefit from the American College of Surgeons’ active determination to become “gender neutral”.
The role of women in surgery advanced following Elizabeth’s success, and it was much improved. I benefitted from this and American Surgery has embraced women to an even greater extent since the start of my own career.
But there is still a way to go to enjoy full equality and make being a pioneer obsolete. Elizabeth voiced this in the final quote in my lecture: “I ask you to turn your thoughts to the future and to consider where further progress is most wanted”.