Women’s History Month is a month-long celebration of women’s often-overlooked contributions to the history of the United States. Many women have played a vital role in shaping the country we know today such as Sojourner Truth, a women’s rights activist; Susan Ahn Cuddy, the first Asian American woman to enlist in the U.S. Navy; Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the United States to be granted an MD degree; and Katie Sowers, the first woman and first openly gay coach in Super Bowl history.
Blackwell may have been the first woman granted a medical degree, but many other women paved the way for women’s health and their role in science, like Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte, America’s first Native American physician, and Rebecca Lee Crumpler who was the first Black woman to earn a medical degree and author a medical text. Throughout her career, Crumpler focused her caregiving on women and children and provided advice on their health care in her medical text, “A Book of Medical Discourses”.
Knowledge about women’s health has developed rapidly over the last decades thanks to scientists, researchers, and the people participating in research. However, health disparities continue to persist and there is still a need to increase representation in research with consent and respect. Henrietta Lacks was crucial to many health advancements, but was not treated as a partner in the process, and did not originally get any recognition. A Black woman with little means, Lacks did not have many treatment options for her terminal cervical cancer. She was seen by a doctor who collected cells from patients of diverse backgrounds without their consent to facilitate his research. Only later did he discover that Lacks' cancer cells were extremely unique and, unlike other cells, they continued to multiply outside of her body. Named after Lacks, “HeLa” cells have transformed cancer treatments and played a crucial role in the development of polio and COVID-19 vaccines.
Unfortunately, many more stories go untold. Women like podcast hosts Olivia Meikle and Katie Nelson speak with historians to uncover and share these lost stories. This Women’s History Month, check out some of these stories and learn about the impact women have had on the health and wellness of the American people.
Each of these women are unique, but they share a common trait with so many women across the world and throughout history. Women have long been advocates for their own health, and as history has proven, health care is not “one-size-fits-all.” Women around the globe continue to help make advances in medicine, and you can do your part by joining the All of Us Research Program.
All of Us wants to help advance health research for women (and everyone!) by gathering health information from at least a million people across the United States. Collecting health data from women from diverse backgrounds can help researchers learn more about how women’s health is unique. Providing your health data may allow researchers to increase knowledge about the risk factors for certain diseases, figure out which treatments work best for people of different backgrounds, and connect people with the right clinical studies for their needs.
See how the All of Us Research Program benefits the future of health research and the role you can play: joinallofus.org/togetherdenver.