Today in History – November 11, 1865 – Mary Edward Walker, the first Army female surgeon, was awarded the Medal of Honor for her work during the Civil War. Dr. Mary Walker changed the face of medicine as a physician and as an advocate for women’s rights and healthy cothing for women. As she concluded in 1897, “I am the original new woman…Why, before Lucy Stone, Mrs. Bloomer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were – before they were, I am. In the early ’40′s, when they began their work in dress reform, I was already wearing pants…I have made it possible for the bicycle girl to wear the abbreviated skirt, and I have prepared the way for the girl in knickerbockers.
Today, women make up over 50% of the medical school students and women students are reaching parity in bioengineering and biomedical engineering as well – yet they are still less than 10% of the medical and engineering faculty. A recent study of the National Academies titled Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering found unintentional biases were a major contributor to the low number of women on our science and engineering faculties. Women face barriers to hiring and promotion in research universities in many fields of science and engineering — a situation that deprives the United States of an important source of talent as the country faces increasingly stiff global competition in higher education, science and technology, and the marketplace. Eliminating gender bias in universities requires immediate, overarching reform and decisive action by university administrators, professional societies, government agencies, and Congress. The report was motivated by former Harvard President Larry Summers’ speculation that the low numbers of women in science and engineering are because women don’t want to work hard enough and that there may be a biological basis. His discounted discrimination as a tertiary factor. See the Engineering Pathway’s Engineering Diversity site and our resources on gender equity.