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10 Important but Largely Overlooked Women in History

important overlooked women

There are names we are not very familiar with even after they have left a mark in the growth of our civilization. They have been overlooked now for eras. Here, we present 10 such names of overlooked women in history that will surely keep you in awe.

1. Sandy Lee Ford 

Sandy Lee, the technician in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, rightly pointed out the sudden upsurge in the number of patients and paying heed to what she reported, the  US Federal Government became aware of the upcoming epidemic.

Sandy Lee Ford
Sandy Ford with vials of pentamidine. Image credits: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Shutterstock

Sandy Lee joined the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a responder to the drugs requested by the doctors and physicians of the US in the year 1979. One of those drugs, pentamidine isethionate, was used to treat the rare African-born disease trypanosomiasis as well as the patients suffering from pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP).

This was mainly found among infants and children with immune system deficiency. Sandy used to hold the records of the delivery of these drugs to help the physicians and understand their requirements.

In 1981, the demand for pentamidine rose, and Sandy noticed that. She found out that a physician from New York has asked for a second dose of pentamidine, as the first dose failed to treat his patient who was neither an infant nor a child.

Within the next two weeks, another five cases of pentamidine were found in five homosexual adults. Sandy knew that something was not right, and informed his supervisor of her unusual finding. They took a look at it and alerted the federal government about the upcoming epidemic.

In 1984, researchers found out the true cause of AIDS (HIV virus) and the first commercial blood test for HIV started in the year 1985. (source)

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2. Virginia Apgar

After facing several challenges to study medicine, Virginia Apgar, one of the overlooked women in history, became the very first anesthetist. Later, she introduced the “Apgar score” to evaluate the health of newborn babies.

Virginia Apgar
Dr. Virginia Apgar was the first woman at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Image credit: cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov, Shutterstock

Virginia, having come from a musical family in 1909, indulged a passion to become a doctor. In spite of facing several challenges on her way to study medicine as a woman, she never deviated from the path.

She graduated 4th in her class in the year 1933 from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. Dr. Alan Whipple, the chair of surgery, discouraged her by stating examples of multiple women whom he trained, and yet they couldn’t find a successful career.

He instead encouraged Apgar to pursue a career as an anesthetist, as the field at that time lacked a person with intelligence, energy, and most importantly, the ability to contribute. Since anesthesia was not considered a specialty those days, Apgar had to struggle a lot to get a suitable training course.

Anesthesia began to become acknowledged by the medical world in 1946. And in 1949, Dr. Apgar was appointed as the first woman ever to become a full professor at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

She continued her studies, and it was in 1952 when she came up with a way to evaluate the health of a newborn child. It was published officially in 1953. The method is widely known as the “Apgar score” and is still now used after one and five minutes of birth.

The count taken on the first minute after birth shows how well the baby has sustained the birth, and the score taken after five minutes helps to evaluate how well the baby is doing out of its mother’s womb. (source)

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3. Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly took the pain to reveal the story “Behind Asylum Bars” in 1887. She went through the traumatic phase of 10 days in an asylum where she experienced misdiagnosis, abuse, and harassment. She did all this to bring out the exact story as the “first investigative journalist.”

Nellie Bly
Elizabeth Cochrane “Nellie Bly”, 1890. Image credit: Shutterstock

In 1887, Nellie moved to New York World when she stormed into the editor’s office and expressed her interest to write a story on the experience of the immigrants who are living in the USA. The editor didn’t find the story interesting, but he saw the will inside Nelly. Instead, he offered Nelly to investigate the notorious mental hospitals and write a piece on them.

Nellie was motivated to work as a journalist, so, when she got the offer, she took it. She behaved as if she was mentally ill and went undercover in the New York City insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island when she was just 23. Her first night at the asylum was no less than a nightmare. She heard women from other cells crying, screaming, and begging for death.

After staying there for 10 days, Nellie published her experiences in New York World in six episodes under the title of “Ten Days in a Mad-House.” Her published articles exposed several malpractices, tortures, and abuses perpetrated against mental patients which shook the entire world.

Measures were taken against the accused her story revealed, and Nellie became famous inspiring other women to pursue their career as a journalist. Nellie Bly is also known to be the pioneer of investigative journalism, but hers is still a name in the list of overlooked women in history. (source)

4. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha

The doctor was the savior of 100,000 Flint residents’ who were exposed to the highly lead-contaminated Flint River water in 2014.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha
Image credits: Wikimedia

In April 2014, the city of Flint in Michigan changed its water source from the Detroit Water Department to the Flint River. Though the water at its source was found drinkable, the old pipes and drainage system managed to contaminate the water with lead due to a lack of corrosion inhibitors.

The increased level of lead in the water endangered the lives of 100,000 citizens of Flint who developed high lead levels in their blood, which could lead to poisoning.

Dr. Mona Hanna Attisha, appointed at Hurley Children’s Hospital, discovered an elevated level of lead in the children’s blood. She also noticed that the lead level of blood in children has almost doubled since the water supply was switched from Detroit to Flint.

At first, none paid heed to what she said, and she was supplied with incorrect data when she asked for it. On 23rd March 2015, the Flint City Council members voted 7-1 to refuse the usage of Flint water, as the children were already suffering from ‘mysterious illnesses. However, Jerry Ambrose over-ruled the vote stating that the water from Detroit is no safer than that of Flint.

After seeing all this nonsense, Dr. Mona Hanna Attisha knew that she had to do something big to get the attention of the world, and so she did. She arranged a huge press conference and informed the world about the danger in which citizens of Flint were under without caring that it could be the end of her career.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reviewed their data and finally agreed with her. From 16 October 2015, Flint switched back to Detroit water and started getting treated water from the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department. (source)

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5. Frances Oldham Kelley

Ms. Kelley lady who saved thousands of newborns’ lives by stopping the approval of body- deforming thalidomide in 1960.

Frances Oldham Kelsey
Frances Oldham Kelsey, the Canadian doctor who played a central role in preventing the drug thalidomide. Image credit: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration/Frances O. Kelsey via Flickr

Maternity is a fragile phase of life, and morning sickness is common. But what if the drug to relieve morning sickness could cause harm to the baby? Well, in 1960, that actually happened when the drug thalidomide was in its approval and application stage, and Frances Oldham Kelsey put a hold on it.

Thalidomide was meant to be used as a tranquilizer and painkiller for pregnant women to deal with morning sickness. Canada and more than 20 European and African countries already approved it. When the application for the drug’s approval came under Frances Oldham Kelsey’s surveillance, she insisted on holding the approval.

She was determined with her research that thalidomide can cause peripheral neuritis and insisted the tests must show solid proof that the drug is secure for the unborn child. Eventually, the deformities in the newborn babies in Europe proved that the drug was harmful. Researches proved that thalidomide could cause fatal defects in newborns by crossing the placental barrier.

The Washington Post hailed her with prestigious titles and conveyed what she did to prevent thousands of babies’ deformities and deaths. She also received the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service in 1962 by John F. Kennedy. (source)

Also read: 10 Women Who Disguised Themselves as Men to Achieve Their Dreams

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