Dr. Leila Denmark

"Every child should have a chance."

It never ceases to amaze me that seemingly ordinary events can give you extraordinary gifts or ideas.  Recently, my mother and I were having Sunday lunch with some friends from church.  We talked about the great weather we were having, about his love of sailing, as well as my recent trip to Madagascar.  Over dessert, Peter asked me if I had ever heard of Dr. Leila Denmark.  I confessed that I had not, and he gave me a few details with a promise to email me a link to the article he had seen in the The Telegraph.

Leila-circa-1940That evening, I was checking my email when I saw one from my friend with a link to the story about Dr. Denmark.  What I read was remarkable.  She was born in 1888 to Elerbee and Alice Daughtry and grew up on a farm in Bulloch County, Georgia.  She loved caring for the animals and seemed to have a knack for healing them.  She went to college and subsequently taught high school for a while, when she decided to apply to medical school.

In 1924, she entered the Medical College of the University of Georgia – the only woman in her class.  Graduating in 1928, she married soon after and moved with her husband to Atlanta.  Initially, she volunteered at Grady Hospital, but when Egleston Hospital for Children (later Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta) opened, she became their first intern and also admitted their first patient.

After the birth of her daughter, she operated her private practice pediatric clinic from their home – which she did for the next seventy-one years, retiring at the age of 103!  She is believed to have been the oldest practicing physician in the history of the United States.

980914 FORSYTH COUNTY, GA.:--WEIGHING IN-- Dr. Leila Denmark (cq), a 100-year-old pediatrician, weighs 14-month-old Amber Jimison (cq), of Buckhead, Ga., on an old fashioned scale at her office on Monday, September 14, 1998. Jimison, who weighed 32 lbs and 2 ounces, had a cold. Her mother, Scarlett Jimison, has been a patient of Denmarks since she was a toddler. Denmark, who began practicing medicine 70 years ago, had planned to retire in 1985 when she moved to Forysth county from Sandy Springs where she'd practiced for 40 years. She asked her grandson to fix up the farmhouse and over a dozen years later she is still at work after turning 100. (CURTIS COMPTON/staff)

980914 FORSYTH COUNTY, GA.:–WEIGHING IN– Dr. Leila Denmark (cq), a 100-year-old pediatrician, weighs 14-month-old Amber Jimison (cq), of Buckhead, Ga., on an old fashioned scale at her office on Monday, September 14, 1998. Jimison, who weighed 32 lbs and 2 ounces, had a cold. Her mother, Scarlett Jimison, has been a patient of Denmarks since she was a toddler. Denmark, who began practicing medicine 70 years ago, had planned to retire in 1985 when she moved to Forysth county from Sandy Springs where she’d practiced for 40 years. She asked her grandson to fix up the farmhouse and over a dozen years later she is still at work after turning 100. (CURTIS COMPTON/staff)

However, longevity was not her only accomplishment.  In addition to her practice, she continued to volunteer at the Central Presbyterian Baby Clinic, where she became involved in developing an immunization for pertussis, or whopping cough as it is commonly known.  Her research in this helped to develop the vaccine that has been used for decades, saving thousands of children’s lives in the process.  She received the Fisher Award for her research – an award that she truly cherished.

000304 - ALPHARETTA, GA -- Dr. Leila Alice Daughtry-Denmark (cq), a 102 year old pediatrician, March 3, 2000, at her home in Alpharetta. (LEVETTE BAGWELL / AJC STAFF)

000304 – ALPHARETTA, GA — Dr. Leila Alice Daughtry-Denmark (cq), a 102 year old pediatrician, March 3, 2000, at her home in Alpharetta. (LEVETTE BAGWELL / AJC STAFF)

However, she did not stop at research and wrote a book, Every Child Should Have a Chance, which is now in its 16th edition.  She continued to see patients with keeping the bare essentials necessary for practice, at her last office – in an old farmhouse, she saw patients without appointments and dispensed common sense advice to several generations of patients. Outside of medicine, she enjoyed golf, traveling, and sewing – making most of her own clothes.  She passed away in 2012 at the age of 114 and buried next to her husband, Eustace.  “Every child should have a chance. Do what you can to help.” Dr. Leila Denmark

 

Émilie du Châtelet

"A great man whose only fault is being a woman."

Emilie_Chatelet_portrait_by_LatourFor the first in our series on Women in STEM, we bring you from France, a marquise no less, Émilie du Châtelet.  Her STEM contributions are notable – she was a mathematician, physicist and author.  To this day, she is still celebrated for her translation of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica – not exactly casual reading for anyone.  Her French translation of that work is still used today.

Born in Paris in 1706, she was the only girl in six children. Her parents were part of what was considered the lesser nobility.  Despite education being rather limited for women in that era, her father who had noted her intelligence arranged for tutors for her.  By the age of twelve, she was fluent in Latin, Greek, German and Italian.  In addition to languages, she received tutoring in mathematics, science and literature.  There is debate on which parent or both actually supported this education.  Regardless, it was very unusual for any parent at that time to provide for such an education for a young woman.  She managed to even profit from her mathematical proficiency, using her skills in gambling to obtain money for additional books when money ran low.

This being France in the eighteenth century, she was married at age eighteen to the Marquis Florent-Claude du Chastellet-Lomont.  It was an arranged marriage – common for the times.  At the age of twenty-six, she resumed her mathematical studies, delving into algebra and calculus under the tutelage of Moreau de Maupertuis who had studied under Johann Bernoulli.  Later on, she began studying under Alexis Clairaut, famous for Clairaut’s equation and theorem.

Of her associates, perhaps the best known is Voltaire.  While the exact dates of their first encounter are somewhat in debate, it is well known that Du Châtelet invited him to live at her country house at Cirey-sur-Blaise – seemingly with the approval of her rather obliging husband.  Together they collaborated on studies of physics and mathematics, publishing papers on their results. Voltaire, never known for his tolerance of fools, found Du Châtelet intelligent, and although his comment found in the subtitle seems less than flattering, he held her in great esteem.

She and Voltaire even competed in the 1738 Academie de Paris contest on the nature of fire, and while neither won the grand prize, she became the first woman to have a scientific paper published by the Academie.  Her paper, Disseration sur la nature et la propagation du feu, predicted what we now know as infrared radiation.  Never a shrinking violet, she took on heavy hitters of her day including John Locke, and Dortous de Mairan – secretary of the Academy of Sciences.  Her sharp rebuttal of his arguments so unnerved him that he withdrew from the debate.  She additionally published a book on physics to provide education for her son, and her experiements in kinetic energy provided the basis for Leonhard Euler and Joseph-Louis Lagranges subsequent studies.  Not surprisingly she was a strong advocate for the education of women, and who can blame her?

Troublemakers: Fascinating exposés of women in STEM

652Living in the Pacific Northwest, I am blessed to live near mountains and the ocean, with literally hundreds of hiking trails of all types.  Some gain steep elevation, others wind through old forests and some have breathtaking views of the Columbia River gorge or the Pacific Ocean.  Occasionally on a hike, I will see a sign indicating that such and such group has helped in maintaining the trail.  It is easy to walk along a trail and think nothing of the people and time it took to carve out that trail as well as the effort to keep it in shape.

Recently there has been a lot of talk about encouraging women to go into the STEM careers – for those unfamiliar, STEM is an anagram meaning Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.  Articles have been written; pundits have pontificated, and still there is debate about what do to about the small numbers of women who choose STEM professions.

Often, it seems, we decide to forge ahead with a plan while ignoring the works of those who have gone before us.  While traveling on the road, I read an article in the Smithsonian magazine about the early women in science.  Marie Curie instantly comes to mind for most of us, as she should, being the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and being the first individual to win a second one.  However, as the article points out, there have been several notable women in STEM – many of whom are unknown to the public at large.

I could use this space to debate why these women have been overlooked, but instead, what I would like to do is to highlight each one – her strengths, her accomplishments and even her foibles. Over the next several weeks, I will post a brief biography drawing from the Smithsonian article and adding details I learn along the way. These women in their own way helped blaze a trail and in encouraging young women today, I think it worth the time and effort to maintain their trails.