The notable, but tragic, career of a trailblazing orthopedic surgeon


The early 20th century in the U.S. was a period of shifting rights and roles for women. So it may come as a surprise that the percentage of female physicians was actually on the decline during this time. Disproportionally fewer opportunities for women resulted from sweeping changes to medical education, including additional enrollment requirements and new state regulations that led to a wave of medical school closures. Many of the women who did earn medical degrees were subsequently denied internships.


The hurdles many aspiring female physicians faced were not an issue for Marian Frauenthal, however. She had several factors working in her favor. She was born into a wealthy family. She was the daughter of a successful orthopedic surgeon. She was accepted into a medical school that had weathered medical education reform. She was able to train as an intern immediately after graduation, in both New York City and Europe.


After marrying fellow orthopedic resident David Sloane, her career was off to a fast start as one of only two female orthopedic surgeons nationwide. In 1935, Dr. Marian Frauenthal Sloane earned the distinction of being the first U.S. female orthopedic surgeon to publish a scholarly article. By 1937, she had published four more peer-reviewed articles.


Tragically, she died in 1940 at the age of 36. Her career, and her potential as a role model for aspiring female orthopedic surgeons, was cut short by cancer. The family wealth that helped pave the way for her career may have also been a factor in her death. When she was a teenager, her family could afford a relatively new cure for acne: radiation treatment.


Sources:

What’s Important: Women Trailblazers in Orthopaedics

Marian Frauenthal Sloane, MD: Pioneer for Women in Orthopedic Surgery

Women Physicians in the Era of Medical Education Reform

Early 20th Century Reforms of Medical Education Worldwide

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