From the COVID vaccine to pulsars to computer programming, women are at the source of many scientific discoveries, inventions and innovations that shape our lives. But in the stories we’ve come to accept about those breakthroughs, women are too often left out.
Each season at Lost Women of Science, we’ll look at one woman and her scientific accomplishment: who she was, how she lived and what she found out. Katie Hafner, a longtime reporter for the New York Times, explains the science behind each woman’s work and explores the historical context in which she lived.
Our first season, “The Pathologist in the Basement,” is all about Dorothy Andersen, a physician and pathologist who solved a medical mystery when she identified and defined cystic fibrosis in 1938. A passionate outdoorswoman, a “rugged individualist” and a bit of an enigma, Andersen changed the way we understand acute lung and gastrointestinal problems in young children.
This podcast is distributed by PRX and published in partnership with Scientific American.
LISTEN TO THE PODCAST
SOPHIE MCNULTY: Okay. Are you ready? I'm recording. Just started. Okay. So can you just tell me where we're going?
MICHELLE ORES: We're going down to the basement where my mother kept her medical files.
SOPHIE MCNULTY: Did you guys move them here once she retired?
MICHELLE ORES: Yes, we did.
Here are the files. They're alphabetized by patient last name.
I’m just gonna take out the whole box, make it easier.
Okay. This will be a good one. This patient here.
KATIE HAFNER: I'm Katie Hafner. Welcome to Lost Women of Science, a podcast where we unearth stories of extraordinary female scientists who haven’t received the recognition they deserved.
This is season one, about the life and work of Dr. Dorothy Andersen. She was a physician and pathologist at Columbia University. And she was the first to identify cystic fibrosis in the 1930s.
Dorothy Andersen had a lot of firsts to her name.
She was the first physician to diagnose a living patient with Cystic Fibrosis–essentially a death sentence at the time. She was the first to come up with a simple diagnostic test for CF. She was the first to come up with treatments to extend the life of CF patients, and she was the first to recognize that CF was a genetic disorder.
Despite all that, she’s not a household name. Though some people are familiar with the broad strokes of her medical accomplishments, some of the most fundamental aspects of Dorothy Andersen’s life remain a mystery. And something about that just didn’t sit right with me.
Our reporting team—which consists pretty much of me and our associate producer, Sophie McNulty—looked all over the place for any relics of Dorothy Andersen’s life. We looked for letters she might have written. We looked for her manuscript drafts. And we hit a lot of dead ends. But then...
SOPHIE MCNULTY: Hello?
KATIE HAFNER: Hi. Are you still in the basement?
SOPHIE MCNULTY: Yes, I am.
KATIE HAFNER: That’s Sophie. She’s in a basement in Northern Connecticut.
SOPHIE MCNULTY: And I just came across, in a box that was unmarked and off to the side, two folders labeled “Dorothy Andersen.”
KATIE HAFNER: Sophie’s in a house that belongs to Michelle Ores, the daughter of Dr. Celia Ores who worked with Dr. Andersen in the 1960s. And, lucky for us, Michelle kept all the medical files from her mother’s decades-long career.
SOPHIE MCNULTY: The first is full of notes it looks like from the 1960s that Celia took when she was working for Dr. Andersen, and the other one is definitely clearly related to Dorothy Andersen. As soon as I open it, I see a photo of Dorothy.
And then there's this note followed by chapters, and it says, “Dear Dr. Ores, here's the first section of my book about Dorothy Andersen. I'd very much appreciate it if you could find the time to read it, and then let me have your criticisms, corrections, additions, et cetera. Just give me a ring when you're ready.”
It's by Libby Machol. And it's a biography of Dorothy Andersen, MD.
She must never have published it.
KATIE HAFNER: Yeah, she must never have published it.
KATIE HAFNER: So were the answers to all of our questions about Dorothy’s life just sitting in a basement the whole time? And what about Libby Machol’s hard work? Why was this biography just left to sit in a damp basement with sports equipment and lawn chairs?
Claire Tomalin, a prominent biographer once wrote, “Biographers search for traces, for evidence of activity, for signs of movement, for letters, for diaries, for photographs.” And what she was saying was this: That to put together the puzzle of someone’s life, you have to excavate—to bring to light what was long buried.
In this episode, we’re going to home in on people we’ve found who did just that—they went out digging and then carefully strung together the pieces of Dorothy Andersen’s life. Libby Machol is one of these excavators.
Her manuscript is titled AHEAD OF HER TIME, which is totally true, and it paints a colorful portrait of Dorothy Andersen’s life—especially her college days at Mount Holyoke. Libby Machol wrote the manuscript in the 1970’s when a lot of Dr. Andersen’s friends and colleagues were still alive.
Machol died about 25 years ago. And we couldn’t find any record of the full biography, but we did find one person who knew Libby Machol.
KATE DOMINUS: My name is Kate Dominus, and I am Libby Machol's granddaughter.
KATIE HAFNER: So, um, you did not know that she was writing this biography. You had no clue.
KATE DOMINUS: I had no clue, but I'm not surprised. Uh, my grandmother would often take on projects that interested her and write a few spec chapters and a table of contents, and then try to shop it around and see if anybody was interested.
KATIE HAFNER: Do you know how many of these she did?
KATE DOMINUS: I probably would guess about a half dozen.
KATIE HAFNER: That's pretty amazing. I mean, to get that far into a non-fiction book and just sort of throw it at the wall and see if it sticks.
KATIE HAFNER: I'd love you to read these two paragraphs. On page 48... “on her return to college, a short time later…”
KATE DOMINUS: Okay: “Throughout her college years, Dorothy was a self-appointed saleswoman for outdoor exercise and the wonders of the natural world, forever trying to involve the intellectuals around her in her strenuous pursuits. One winter morning, she persuaded Edith to join her for an early breakfast of bacon and eggs. IN THE SNOW.”
All the while she was building the fire and cooking the meal, she talked about the joys of fresh morning air. In the spring, she organized expeditions to collect frogs and skunk cabbages for the lab.”
KATIE HAFNER: I can’t get over this idea of dragging your friends out of bed to have breakfast in the snow. It’s clear Dorothy Andersen was not, by any stretch of the imagination, conventional—and evidence of that is all over the Machol biography.
KATE DOMINUS: “Dorothy Andersen had always liked using her ingenuity to create what she couldn’t afford to buy.
A few years earlier, she had yearned briefly over some high-priced camping equipment at Abercrombie and Fitch, concluding that it was much too expensive, and set about copying it. She concocted a custom-made sleeping bag—filled with down and neatly sewn by hand, its knots securely tied with the one-handed technique she had learned as a surgical intern.
KATIE HAFNER: I mean imagine having your eye on something in an outdoor equipment catalog all year long and finally just deciding, nah, it’s too expensive. I’ll just make it!
With all of these anecdotes, I’m seeing this pattern of a person who truly does take matters into her own hands, whether you’re talking about her life or her work. She was ingenious in the lab too, building things like a constant-temperature water bath, years before such a thing was a standard piece of lab equipment.
KATE DOMINUS: “Dorothy Andersen’s colleagues were divided in their reactions. Her admirers praised her originality and daring. Her detractors were outraged. They considered her undignified. They believed she did a disservice to her profession and particularly to women doctors by lowering herself to work with her hands ‘like a common laborer.’”
KATIE HAFNER: Ok, can I just stop and say this has made me just love Dorothy Andersen…I mean the “common laborer” who lowered herself to work with her hands.
But there’s one thing Kate Dominus has no answer for—and maybe no one who’s still alive knows the answer to this—and that’s why her grandmother decided to write an entire book about Dorothy Andersen's life. Did Andersen’s unusual and extraordinary life just spark some interest in Machol?
While reading the biography, I was also struck by something that might seem simple or obvious: so many people from Andersen’s life were still alive in the early 1970s, and Libby Machol interviewed a bunch of those people. I was in high school in the 1970s. I’d been imagining Andersen’s life as ancient history, but reading that manuscript made Dorothy Andersen seem almost like a contemporary.
There’s just one problem with Libby Machol’s biography, and it’s a pretty big one: It stops on page 67. Maybe she shopped those pages around and no one wanted to publish it. We really have no idea. But we do know that all we could find was 67 pages.
The unfinished manuscript suddenly cuts off in 1927, the year Dr. Andersen had a prolonged attack of infectious hepatitis. The last scene of the manuscript is special—it's a perfect example of Dorothy Andersen’s lemonade-out-of-lemons style. She writes that getting sick turned out to have been quote, “a most fortunate circumstance” since it quote “resulted in orders to cease work for a year.” And she wrote, “since loafing in Europe was much more interesting and no more expensive at that time than convalescence in the USA, I spent the following year in France and Italy, learning the languages, looking at pictures, pursuing my hobby of sketching, and being laid up in friendly but not always comfortable little hotels at odd places by recurrences of jaundice.” And that’s it, ending on page 67, in the middle of the page. What a tease from Libby Machol.
Coming up, we’ll dig still deeper in the search for threads to a life. I’m Katie Hafner and this is Lost Women of Science.
After reading Libby Machol's vexingly unfinished manuscript and talking to her granddaughter Kate, I turned, once again, to archives—this time, at Columbia, where Dorothy Andersen worked for more than 30 years.
And completely by accident, once again, I stumbled upon another excavator—someone else determined to stitch together Dr. Andersen’s life.
SCOTT BAIRD: I'm in the archives, which is the basement of the library, the Hammer Health Sciences Library at Columbia University Medical Center, right near where the George Washington Bridge comes into Manhattan.
We are right across the street from Babies Hospital.
KATIE HAFNER: Okay, so here’s how this happened. For months, I'd been pestering the main archivist at Columbia to let us into the archives to see what there was on Dorothy Andersen. At one point during this pester-fest, he mentioned that there was someone at Columbia who was writing a biography of Dorothy Andersen. And he'd been doing it for a few years. That person is Scott Baird.
SCOTT BAIRD: So this box is a box about, oh, four inches deep with file folders.
And that's the extent of, essentially of the information about Dorothy Andersen in the archives.
KATIE HAFNER: Scott Baird is not someone who would strike you as a biographer. He has a really demanding full time job doing something completely different. He's a critical care physician at Columbia University and he spends his time working in the pediatric intensive care unit there.
But working on Dorothy Andersen’s biography has become Scott’s grand obsession. Most of Dr. Andersen’s friends and colleagues have died, so there are really very few crumbs for Scott to follow. And so his hunt for clues into Andersen’s life, it’s taken him all over the place.
SCOTT BAIRD: It was a day in February, a couple of years ago.
I went to this warehouse in the Bronx where many of the records from the early part of the century were kept. I just sort of wandered around like Raiders from the Lost Ark [sic], looking for books or boxes or labels or anything.
I came across some autopsy reports from the late 1920s. And I said, well, maybe I'll get lucky. And indeed I did.
KATIE HAFNER: One of those autopsy reports that Scott Baird found was from 1929 and it was done by a 28-year-old, newly arrived assistant pathologist named Dorothy Andersen, who had graduated from medical school a couple of years earlier.
So the report she wrote in 1929 described a 34-year-old man who had died of pneumonia, but here’s the interesting part: everything about that autopsy pointed to cystic fibrosis.
SCOTT BAIRD: She had actually seen somebody who had CF, an adult, and described it pretty vividly.
And I suspect that that somehow colored her responses later on, five years later, when she saw the first case of a child, I think it, it affected the way she saw that severe degree of lung disease, pancreatic involvement, and, and put it together.
KATIE HAFNER: With so little material to work with, Scott Baird turned to Dr. Andersen’s published papers. And there are a lot of them. In fact, over the course of her career, which was not terribly long, she published more than 80 papers starting in 1926 when she was still a medical student at Johns Hopkins, all the way up until shortly before she died in 1963. A few more papers were even published posthumously, finished by the team she’d been working with.
Although she’d dip in and out of other pediatric subspecialties over the years, she always came back to her first passion, cystic fibrosis. In fact, in late 1938, the same year she identified the disease, Dr. Andersen created the first cystic fibrosis diagnostic test—and it was very involved. She had to insert a tube down the throats of children to check for pancreatic enzymes in their intestines. Pancreatic enzymes by the way, those are the ones that break down food. But in CF patients those enzymes don’t reach the intestines.
And this brand new test required brand new tools.
So Dr. Andersen again tapped into that same DIY ingenuity that inspired her to make sleeping bags, according to Libby Machol, and she designed and built a piece of equipment to give the test to toddlers and even to newborns. Here’s Kate Dominus again reading her grandmother’s work.
KATE DOMINUS: “After a certain amount of trial and error, Dr. Andersen constructed a tube, which she described as ‘highly satisfactory,’ of No.12 French catheter tubing, to which a dumbbell-shaped metal tip was attached by means of silk thread. Now at last she was ready to begin.”
KATIE HAFNER: I spoke with Scott for hours about all this, picking his brain on the research he’d compiled on Dorothy Andersen’s career. And then, a few hours into one of our conversations, he said something about the work she and her colleagues did in the 1940’s and 50’s that caught me completely off-guard.
SCOTT BAIRD: It took me a while, because I'm kind of a slow learner, but I finally figured out, wait a second, there's an alternative story here.
KATIE HAFNER: Okay, this alternative story took me down a rabbit hole. To understand what happened, there are two important things you need to know.
Number one: in 1944, Dorothy Andersen hired a young doctor from Italy named Paul di Sant’Agnese.
SCOTT BAIRD: He was hired principally to help take care of, I think, Dorothy Andersen's outpatient clinic of CF patients. But she then proceeded to mentor him, I think over the next six or seven years.
KATIE HAFNER: He was talented, he was young and he was ambitious. And I’ll get to why he’s important in this story in a minute.
But first: the second thing I want to describe is a heat wave that hit New York in 1948.
NEWSCASTER: As the record breaking heat wave blanketed most of the nation, temperatures crowded the hundred mark for days…
KATIE HAFNER: In late August of that year, long before most people had air conditioning, a heat wave swept through the country from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. New York City was hit especially hard with record breaking temperatures of 101. Infant mortality doubled. And in the space of a week, several children came to Babies Hospital with heat exhaustion.
Their stories were all the same. After exposure to heat, these children suddenly began vomiting and perspiring.They were listless, irritable, and dehydrated. Mothers complained of their “sunken eyes.” And even though they were receiving fluids, their bodies were not reabsorbing electrolytes And it turned out, that of the dozen or so patients that came in...
SCOTT BAIRD: ...at least five of them had cystic fibrosis.
And that suggested to Dorothy Andersen, that there was something in this. She had a sixth sense about this disease that enabled her to sort of pick out, I think, important clues. And so she suggested that it was possible since it appeared to be a disease involved in a variety of glands, that it also involved sweat glands. And she's suggested that these patients were becoming depleted of a specific electrolyte or several electrolytes, either through vomiting or through sweat or through both.
KATIE HAFNER: We now know that cystic fibrosis is caused by a mutation in a gene. This specific gene codes for something called a chloride channel. Chloride channels are gatekeepers that sit in the cell membrane and usher chloride, an electrolyte, in and out of cells.
This allows your body to control the flow of water.
Because cystic fibrosis patients have faulty or absent chloride channels, water doesn’t move in and out of cells the way it’s supposed to, and electrolytes are not reabsorbed to the same extent that they are in healthy people.
This problem leads to things like thick sticky mucus and extra salty sweat.
In fact, centuries ago, there was a saying: “Woe is the child who tastes salty from a kiss on the brow for he is cursed and soon must die.” Which is to say that the connection between salt and fatal illness was known, but it wasn't understood.
And all the way into the 1980’s, a salty kiss could still speak volumes to a discerning physician.
In 1987, Ginny Hughes brought her two-year-old daughter, Mallory, to Dr. Celia Ores, who'd been a mentee of Dorothy Andersen’s.
GINNY HUGHES: All she did was kiss my baby and she knew. She could taste it on her lips.
KATIE HAFNER: Here's CF patient Sara Kominsky.
SARA KOMINSKY: And you could actually visualize the white salt crystals on my skin. Yeah, you could actually draw little pictures in the, the salt and electrolytes.
KATIE HAFNER: And eventually the link that was made between CF and sweat led to a new diagnostic tool. Here’s Brian O’Sullivan, a pediatric pulmonologist from Dartmouth.
BRIAN O’SULLIVAN: This heat wave that children were having excess of salt losses in their sweat and getting dehydrated and having low sodium and chloride values in their blood. And that led to development of what's called the sweat test, which really took the place of that putting the tube down the throat and getting samples of the secretions and the duodenum for making the diagnosis.
KATIE HAFNER: Instead of that incredibly invasive and uncomfortable procedure, the sweat test simply required collecting sweat from somewhere on a patient’s body. And the sweat test remains one of the most important developments in the history of cystic fibrosis. And the doctor credited with the development of the sweat test as well as the discovery of the link between cystic fibrosis and sweat is none other than Paul di Sant’Agnese, Dorothy Andersen’s mentee.
That’s the doctor we told you to keep in mind. Now back to this alternative story. Here’s Scott Baird again:
SCOTT BAIRD : And when I, when I would go to the Internet and look up, for instance, the sweat tests, the series of papers on CF sweat testing, which came out in 1953, they all talked about di Sant’Agnese, and di Sant’Agnese mentions that it was his paper in November of 1953, which was the beginning of a new paradigm in the care for CF.
And then I finally went back to the paper itself in ‘51 about the heat prostration. And then I went to the three papers about CF sweat. And I, it took me a while because I'm kind of a slow learner, but I finally figured out, wait a second, there's an alternative story here.
KATIE HAFNER: In order to understand who should really get credit for the discovery of the CF sweat abnormality, let’s look at the written record.
Here we go. In 1951, three years after the 1948 heat wave, Dorothy Andersen and Walter Kessler, a pediatric resident at Babies Hospital, published a paper on heat exhaustion in CF patients.
SCOTT BAIRD: She, along with Walter Kessler, wrote up this series, and really provided, I think, a new paradigm for cystic fibrosis.
This is really Dorothy speaking. Walter Kessler was a resident at the time, a physician in training.
She suggested in the text that the sweat glands, as well as the glands of the pancreas and other organs, are inadequate in function in cystic fibrosis.
KATIE HAFNER: Andersen and Kessler were the ones who suggested that cystic fibrosis affected not just the pancreas and not just the lungs, but maybe the sweat glands, too. This was a pivotal moment in the history of the disease–Andersen and Kessler had made the initial connection between CF and sweat.
And this is important, because it led to the radical change in diagnostic testing, and also because it led to a better understanding of how this disease actually works.
But, when it came to learning about sweat, this 1951 heat exhaustion paper was just the start.
Two years later, in 1953, three additional studies came out examining what makes CF sweat so unique.
So we have these 3 papers. They were all written in 1953. Their methods and results were very similar. And they all conclude that CF patients have considerably more chloride in their sweat.
What’s different is that only one of the papers lists Dorothy Andersen as an author. Paul di Sant’Agnese is an author on all three.
Here’s Scott Baird again:
SCOTT BAIRD: What's the difference between those two papers in the first one? There's more CF patients. But the key here is, I think, the November, 1953 study, according to several CF researchers who put together histories of CF the November, 1953 study by di Sant Agnese was the main paper quoted as describing the sweat electrolyte abnormality.
That study was also described in a history of CF research, undoubtedly, the most important advance in the understanding of CF up to that time.
KATIE HAFNER: It makes sense that this later 1953 sweat study is the paper cited—it was a more in-depth study and it was published later. But because of this academic norm, Paul di Sant’Agnese gets all the credit. And in articles and books that summarize this time period in cystic fibrosis, Dorothy is almost entirely left out.
SCOTT BAIRD: She’s rarely recognized as the person who was really behind that whole approach towards CF. And I think she deserves credit.
KATIE HAFNER: So to summarize: Dorothy Andersen was part of this research from the get-go—she was pivotal to the 1951 heat exhaustion paper and the first 1953 sweat study. These two papers introduced the idea that CF patients had a sweat abnormality. But at the end of the day, it’s Paul di Sant’Agnese’s name that’s remembered.
For Scott Baird, this realization was startling.
SCOTT BAIRD: And then I was thinking about that for a while and serendipitously read something somewhere about the Matilda effect.
KATIE HAFNER: The Matilda Effect is a term coined by historian of science Margaret Rossiter in 1993. Rossiter named this effect after Matilda Joslyn Gage, who was a suffragist and abolitionist, and she wrote a pamphlet in 1870 called “Woman As Inventor.”
In that pamphlet, Gage wrote: “Although woman’s scientific education has been grossly neglected[…]some of the most important inventions of the world are due to her.” The Matilda Effect basically describes just that: how women in science have been overlooked because many of their discoveries and breakthroughs were instead attributed to men.
SCOTT BAIRD: And a bell rang in the back of my mind. And I said, wait a second, that's what happened to Dorothy Andersen.
And that was the beginning of a different take on the whole story. I started to realize that that was probably the case.
In later years, di Sant’Agnese was prone to minimize Dorothy's contributions. And as I added up all this data in my head, it gradually became clear that her place had been ignored.
KATIE HAFNER : This matters. And it matters because it’s how historical details become embedded in textbooks, in Internet searches, and eventually those details come to create a general understanding of the origins of a discovery, say, or an invention. And the Matilda Effect means someone else gets credit and that someone else is a man. This in turn often gives way to what’s known as the Great Man Theory of History, where one person, most often a white man, is given credit for a historical breakthrough. And this view—this Great Man theory of history—it lacks nuance. It doesn’t acknowledge the way science really works, with teams of people pushing forward new ideas.
Paul di Sant’Agnese was Dorothy Andersen’s teammate. But over history, it’s his name alone that’s attached to the link between CF and sweat .
The mechanisms of the Matilda Effect, how it chips away at women’s contributions—they can be hard to see. Does one man seize the credit, or is it more insidious than that— are we all more prone to give credit to a man?
SCOTT BAIRD: But it certainly suggests to me that something wasn’t quite right.
KATIE HAFNER: Paul di Sant’Agnese died in 2005, but his son, Anthony, also a physician, is still alive, retired from the University of Rochester. I tracked down Anthony di Sant’Agnese’s email address and sent him several emails. But never heard back.
SCOTT BAIRD:Remember, she was his mentor and there was a heritage there—Dorothy's own mentor to Dorothy and then presumably di Sant'Agnese. And that heritage was, how do we do research? How do we think about medical problems?
How are we honest in this profession that we've taken?
KATIE HAFNER: In reality, there are no soloists in science. Science is a community effort, and insights are passed down from one generation to the next. Dorothy Andersen was no exception. She came from a long line of scientists. Her mentor was a doctor named Florence Sabin, who among other things was the first woman to work as a full professor at Johns Hopkins. That was in 1917.
Florence Sabin’s mentor was William Osler. Osler was one of the founders of John Hopkins Hospital and one of the most important figures in the history of modern medicine.
A single scientist just can’t claim sole credit for a discovery because their predecessors have contributed years of insights, paving the way for a breakthrough. But this goes both ways: it also means scientists can claim a role in all the work they inspire in turn.
SCOTT BAIRD: And Andersen, I think, felt the responsibility of continuing to pass down that heritage to the next generation. And she attempted to do that for several of her physicians in training.
KATIE HAFNER: We’re beginning to get the idea that there was very little that was more important to Dorothy Andersen than passing on what she knew. Here’s Kate Dominus again, reading her grandmother’s unfinished biography.
KATE DOMINUS: “She confided to the leader of the Student Volunteers, ‘Doctors aren’t as important as teachers. The most they can do is keep people alive. Teachers train character: the heart and the mind. Years later, when young doctors from all over the world came to study in her laboratory, she would urge them to teach what they had learned to their colleagues when they went home, saying that doctors touched the lives of only a few patients directly unless they did teaching in addition to treating patients. ”
KATIE HAFNER : I think it’s important here that Dorothy Andersen was not greedy with her discoveries, and in fact, spreading the word about cystic fibrosis became part of her mission. She taught not only her fellow doctors how to treat cystic fibrosis patients, but also parents. And these families remained in touch with Dr. Andersen for years.
MONTAGE: Dear Dr. Andersen...it's high time you had a report of P...He has had very few attacks of the tonsilitis kind, I'm glad to say...He now has three formed stools per day... His usual trouble is a rise in temperature to 101, 102... You are an extra parent to these children... At checkup a few weeks ago, she weighed...with my deep affection and true appreciation…
KATIE HAFNER: : For someone without any immediate family, for someone who wrote a question mark when she was asked to think of an emergency contact, Andersen really wasn’t alone.
She had plenty of human connections, but they were with patients, with colleagues, with mentors and mentees—all of the people her work brought into her life. Something about Dorothy Andersen drew people in. She lived a solitary life, but she was beloved by patients, by many of her colleagues, and by friends.
And all of that combined has piqued the interest of people who never met her. People like Libby Machol and Scott Baird. They became obsessed, turning over every stone to get to the heart of who she was. I’ve also fallen prey to this consuming passion. I started this whole podcast series because I wanted to tell her story. Her tenacity, her creativity, her quirky Scandinavian stoicism—remember those breakfasts in the snow—all of that is undeniable.
But, her story...it’s still filled with so much mystery. And that’s made me just go down this rabbit hole...the same kind of rabbit hole that Scott Baird and Libby Machol went down. It’s a pull to understand this incredible woman. And the pull has just grown stronger.
Here’s Scott Baird again:
SCOTT BAIRD: Much of the reason why I am trying to pursue this biography is because of the events surrounding the ‘51 heat prostration paper and the ‘53 sweat study. And it just seems to me that credit has not gotten through to Andersen’s memory.
One of the interesting things about Dorothy is, it's clear from reading these letters, at least to me, that she was an effective, caring, practical, and extraordinary clinician.
It's not easy to advance medical knowledge and to be providing care for patients at the same time.
That's a pretty amazing thing in my estimation.
KATIE HAFNER: Dorothy Andersen was recognized and respected in her lifetime, but the Matilda Effect took control of her legacy. The best illustration of this might be her portrait, which was commissioned either late in her life or shortly after she died in early 1963. It was unveiled two months after she died, and a newspaper clipping from that time shows that it was to be hung in Babies Hospital. And we know that it did hang there, at least for a time. But now, the portrait isn’t there. In fact, it’s nowhere to be found. In our next episode, Scott Baird goes looking for it.
SCOTT BAIRD: I’ve come to Columbia Hospital, Columbia University Medical Center’s Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. And I’m looking to see if I can track down the portrait of Dorothy Andersen...
KATIE HAFNER: Next time on Lost Women of Science: The Case of the Missing Portrait.
This has been Lost Women of Science. Thanks to everyone who made this initiative happen, including my co-executive producer Amy Scharf, senior producer Tracy Wahl, associate producer Sophie McNulty, composer Elizabeth Younan, and technical director Abdullah Rufus. We’re grateful to Jane Grogan, Mike Fung, Susan Kare, Scott Baird, Brian McTear, Alison Gwinn, Bob Wachter, Nora Mathison, Robin Linn, Matt Engel, Cathie Bennett Warner, Maria Klawe, Jeannie Stivers, Nikaline McCarley, Bijal Trivedi, and our interns, Kylie Tangonan, Baiz Hoen, and Ella Zaslow. Thanks also to the Mount Holyoke archives for helping with our search, to Paula Goodwin, Nicole Schilling and the rest of the legal team at Perkins Coie, and to Harvey Mudd College, a leader in exemplary STEM education. We’re also grateful to Barnard College, a leader in empowering young women to pursue passion in STEM as well as the arts, for support during the Barnard Year of Science.
Thanks to Emily Quirk and Jim Schachter at New Hampshire Public Radio, where this podcast was recorded.
Lost Women of Science is funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Schmidt Futures and the John Templeton Foundation, which catalyzes conversations about living purposeful and meaningful lives.
This podcast is distributed by PRX and published in partnership with Scientific American.
Thank you so much for listening. I’m Katie Hafner.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]