Mary Howell was one of five founders of the Network and made significant changes in women's health as an academic physician and a supporter of women's health activism. Mary Howell was trained as a physician during the late 1950's, a time when limits on the number of women in medicine were universal. Even more unusual for her time, her career included academic medicine and in 1972 she became the first woman to serve as Dean at Harvard Medical School. It was her experience as Associate Dean for Student Affairs which led Howell to expose discrimination against female medical students and women patients in her booklet "Why Would a Girl Go Into Medicine?" In her booklet (written under the pseudonym Margaret A. Campbell), Howell documented institutional sexism and overt and subtle acts of individual discrimination.
"Why Would a Girl Go into Medicine?" was the right book, written in the right way, at the right time. It was published at a time of tremendous social ferment in American life, and was seized upon by the women's liberation movement as proof of medicine's discrimination against women. Howell's claim that medical schools set quotas which limited the number of female students received notice in establishment settings. That attention, as well as the specter of losing federal funds as a result of recent legislation outlawing discrimination in educational opportunities in medical schools, led to rapid increases in the number of women admitted to U.S. medical schools. (From 9%in 1969 to 25% in 1979.) Mary's concerns about discrimination against women as patients led her to support the emerging women's health movement. By 1975, there were over 2000 community-based women's health groups which either provided direct services and education as an alternative to traditional male- dominated medical care, or were engaged in efforts to change the system.
Mary helped organize the first national women's health conference, which brought individual women and representatives of grassroots women's health groups to the Harvard campus. The National Women's Health Network was in formation at the time and the success of the Women and Health Conference demonstrated that there was a tremendous interest on the part of women in an independent consumer voice on women's health issues.
Mary Raugust Howell died of breast cancer on February 5, 1998.
March/April 1998 issue of the Network News