“For most of history anonymous was a woman”- Virginia Woolf
International Women’s Day (March 8th, 2023) is a day to honor the achievements and contributions of women across the world who came before us. Specifically here, on this blog, in the study and care of the eyes. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.
Before the mid -19th Century, women were not taken seriously as inventors or innovators in the medical field or any field of science or technology for that matter.
Female inventors have created many products in what has traditionally been a male-dominated world, that has changed everyday life:
• Marie Curie she was the first woman to win the Nobel prize in physics
• Rosalyn Franklin discovered the double helix of DNA
• Heady Lamar the actress discovered frequency-hopping technology
• Stefanie Kwolek invented Kevlar
• Katharine Burr Blodgett invented non-reflective glass
• Mary Anderson invented the windshield wiper
It has only been since 1849 that women have legally been able to practice medicine. One prominent woman who went on to become a leading Ophthalmologist was Dr. Lizzie Maude Carvill, MD. (1873-1934). She graduated from Tuft’s College in 1899 and Tuft’s College Medical School in 1905 and completed her training in ophthalmology in Europe.
Dr. Carvill was the first woman on the infirmary staff at Mass Eye and Ear in 1914 and was the first woman to hold a surgical appointment at Mass Eye and Ear, retiring in 1933.
Dr. Carvill later joined the ophthalmology staff at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, a hospital founded in 1862 by women for women Until 1923. When she went into her own private practice in Boston and Somerville, specializing in Phlyetenuler Keratitis in children.
Her research was remarkable in her day for any doctor which included:
• Congenital fistulae of lachrymal canaliculi
• Persistent hyaloid artery
• Tubercular Iritis
• Occurrence of pregnancy-induced bitemporal contraction of the visual field
• Treatment of interstitial keratitis with anti-syphilitic treatment
Many women faced hostility and resistance in their pursuit of medical educations. Dr. L. Maud Carvill was one of them. Women doctors also, exerted a long-lasting influence on the movement towards women’s rights. Many in society considered it wrong if not immoral for women to work outside traditional domestic avenues much less as a doctor. Even after graduation from medical schools, women were refused admittance to medical boards and associations. Dr. L. Maud Carvill went on to become the first female ophthalmologist admitted to the American Ophthalmological Society.