Isabella Herb, First Woman on the Medical Staff

By Sarah Scheinman and Nathalie Wheaton

People often ask the Rush University Medical Center Archives staff who was the “first” — the first female student of Rush Medical College, for example, or maybe the first African-American on the hospital staff. The answers are often more complicated than people would like. And sometimes they are impossible to answer definitively. However, one first we’re sure of is the identity of the first woman on staff at Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago. Presbyterian Hospital, founded in 1883 on this campus, was an early predecessor of Rush University Medical Center.

From 1909 to 1941, Herb was head of the department of anesthesia at Presbyterian Hospital, the first woman to join its medical staff. She also served as the first woman president of the American Association of Anesthetists. In her early career, she practiced as an anesthetist and pathologist in Augustana Hospital in Chicago, working with Lawrence Prince, MD, the major developer of open drop ether and chloroform anesthesia. In 1897, she first published her study surveying 1,000 cases of anesthetics at the hospital, “Observations on One Thousand Consecutive Cases of Anesthesia in the Service of Dr. A. J. Ochsner.Continue reading