Catharine Macfarlane papers
Held at: Drexel University: College of Medicine Legacy Center [Contact Us]
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Drexel University: College of Medicine Legacy Center. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Catharine Macfarlane graduated from Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1898, and later became an instructor in obstetrics at the college and a professor of gynecology. She was the first woman to be elected to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia in 1935. Macfarlane devoted much of her later career to cancer research, specifically pelvic cancer. In 1956, she became the first woman to serve as Chairman for the Medical Society of Pennsylvania’s Commission on Cancer. Macfarlane began researching the breast self-exam in 1962, working with the Philadelphia Division of the American Cancer Society. Her career spanned nearly 70 years, and she was affectionately known as “Dr. Kitty Mac.”
Catharine Macfarlane was born in Philadelphia on April 7, 1877. She earned her Bachelor of Science in biology at University of Pennsylvania in 1895, and graduated with her M.D. from Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1898. She served her internship at the Woman’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and from 1899 to 1900 was instructor of obstetrics at Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Macfarlane had her own private practice until 1903, when she accepted an instructor position in gynecology at Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. She pursued graduate study for the next five years at John Hopkins School of Medicine in urology; Royal Charite, Berlin, Germany, in obstetrics; Frauenklinik, Vienna, Austria, in gynecology; and Radium Hennet, Stockholm, Sweden, in radiology.
In 1908, Macfarlane was appointed Chief of Gynecology at Woman’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and was admitted to the American College of Surgeons in 1913. In 1922, she was accepted the position of Professor of Gynecology at Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, and in 1924, became the Appointed Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Philadelphia General Hospital. In 1924, she accepted the assignment of Research Professor of Gynecology at Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.
In addition to her extensive education, Macfarlane was also involved in numerous associations and served on the boards of many organizations. She served as President of the American Medical Women’s Association from 1936 to 1937 and Vice President of the Medical Women’s International Association from 1937 to 1947. Macfarlane became a member of the Cancer Commission of the Medical Society of Pennsylvania, and served as Chairman of the Cancer Committee of the Philadelphia Medical Society from 1942 to 1947. Macfarlane was appointed Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Division of the American Cancer Society in 1942. From 1943 to 1944, she was President of the Obstetrical Society of Philadelphia. At her alma mater, Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, she was the Vice President of the Board of Corporators from 1945. She was one of the founders as well as an active Fellow of the American Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecology. In 1956, she became the first woman to serve as Chairman for the Medical Society of Pennsylvania’s Commission on Cancer.
As a result of graduate study and fellowships, she became interested in cancer research and because her practice was confined exclusively to women, she was also concerned about the frequency with which cancer strikes women. Macfarlane’s research focused pelvic cancer; how to prevent it and how to treat it. Macfarlane was the first person to use radium for cancer treatment in Philadelphia in 1903. During the Medical Women’s International Meeting in Scotland in 1937, she suggested that the best way to discover pelvic cancer was to schedule periodic pelvic exams for women, even those who showed no symptoms. She received a grant in 1938 from the Committee on Clinical Research of the American Medical Association to establish a cancer prevention research clinic at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Macfarlane’s clinic was the first clinic of its kind in Pennsylvania and she established one of the nation’s first uterine cancer screening programs. Subsequently, other grants followed, including those from the American Medical Association, the International Cancer Research Foundation, the Pennsylvania Division of the Women’s Field Army of the American Society for the Control of Cancer, and in 1947, the American Cancer Society. In 1962, she initiated research on breast self-exams for women, working with the Philadelphia Division of the American Cancer Society.
Macfarlane was the recipient for various awards, including: the Gimbel Award for work in cancer prevention, 1942; the Strittmatter Award for 1948, the first woman to receive this accolade; Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania Award, 1949; the Lasker Award, presented by the American Public Health Association, 1951; the Elizabeth Blackwell Citation from the Trustees of the New York Infirmary, 1952; and the First Annual Mary Silberman Award, for work in cancer prevention, 1953. She received several honorary degrees, including: Doctor of Science, Ursinus College, 1948; Doctor of Science, Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, 1950; Doctor of Medical Science, Drexel Institute of Technology, 1956; and Doctor of Science from Jefferson Medical College, 1958.
Additionally, she published numerous articles on pelvic cancer control and prevention, including progress reports on her research. She was the guest of the Ralph Edwards television program “This is Your Life,” in 1956. Macfarlane held her position as Research Professor at Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania until her death in 1969. She continued her private practice in Philadelphia, and performed surgery well into her 80s. Macfarlane died May 27, 1969.
This collection spans 12 separate accessions, which have been arranged into 10 series. Most of the materials regard Macfarlane's professional activities, her research in uterine cancer, and the recognition she received for her work in cancer prevention. The material span from 1895 to 1971, although the bulk of the material dates from 1935 to 1960.
Series I: Biographical Papers consists of biographical information, most notably a biography of Macfarlane, written in 1970 by Sister M. Juan La Barr. Some records from Macfarlane’s student days at the University of Pennsylvania (1893-1895) and Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (1895-1898), including report cards and tuition slips, are present.
Series II: Correspondence contains correspondence, [1902-(1945-1968)], concerning Macfarlane's professional activities, especially her staff, committee, and professional appointments at the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania. The bulk of the correspondence deals with the American Medical Women's Association Library and Memorial Building Fund (1945-1968), and contains materials from Mabel E. Gardner, M.D.; George A. Hay; Dehlia A. Lynch, M.D.; Rose V. Menendian, M.D.; Nellie S. Noble, M.D.; and Bertha Van Hoosen, M.D.
Series III: Manuscripts is comprised of acceptance speeches (1930; 1947; 1967); short writings about the New England Hospital and several women physicians, including Mary Rupert and Sarah Wister-Starr. A transcript of Macfarlane’s radio interview on WIBG in 1947 is present, as well as an autobiography and a handwritten account regarding Dr. Mary Pauline Root’s admission to Blockley Hospital. However, the bulk of the series is made up of copies and drafts of Macfarlane’s medical papers [1938-1962; undated], such as: “Management of Pelvic Conditions in Women of Advanced Years,” “The Value of Periodic Pelvic Examination on the Control of Cancer of the Uterus,” “Progress Report on Experiment in Control of Cancer of the Uterus,” and “The Prevention of Cancer of the Uterus.” Series IV: Certificates [1895-1971] holds certificates, awards, and honorary degrees received by Macfarlane. Many of these were presented in recognition of her work in cancer research and prevention. Most notably, the series contains Macfarlane’s diplomas from University of Pennsylvania (1895) and Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (1898), as well as the Gimbel Award (1942); the Strittmatter Award for 1948; Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania Award (1949); the Lasker Award (1951); the Elizabeth Blackwell Citation (1952); and the First Annual Mary Silberman Award (1953).
Series V: Organizations (1951-1965; undated) includes breast self-exam pamphlets from the American Cancer Society, a research report by the American Medical Women’s Association about women medical students, and conference information for the 9th Congress of the Medical Women’s International Association. The bulk of the material [undated] found in this series is related to the working agreement between the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania Hospital and the Woman’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and includes correspondence and meeting minutes about the issue.
Series VI: Brochures and programs (1898-1968) represents conferences, award ceremonies, and dedications which Macfarlane attended and/or presented. Pamphlets from the 46th annual commencement of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (1898) and the 75th anniversary of the founding of Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania commencement exercises (1925) are especially of note. The series includes programs from Gimbel Award presentations, notably 1946 and 1960; conference packets from the 10th Congress of the Medical Women’s International Association (1966); and the Elizabeth Blackwell Award presentation (1966). A copy of the by-laws of the Medical Society of Pennsylvania are present, as is a copy of the constitution and by-laws of the American Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecology (1952).
Series VII: Clippings is a relatively small amount of material, comprised of newspaper and magazine clippings about Catharine Macfarlane from 1950 to 1963. Clippings other physicians (1939 to 1967) contain obituaries, including those for Margaret Sturgis and George Pfahler; and news about the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and women physicians in general.
Series VIII: Reprints provides a list of Macfarlane’s publications, of which reprints are available. Additionally, copies of articles authored by Macfarlane’s colleagues, including Lewis Scheffey and George Pfahler, have been collected here.
Series IX: Books is comprised mainly of scrapbooks related to Macfarlane’s career and other professional activities. However, the series holds the book entitled “A Little Journey to the Home of Ephraim McDowell” (published in 1939) as well. The scrapbooks, with the exception of “This is Your Life,” were all created by Macfarlane. Scrapbook no. 1 (1913-1918) consists mostly of materials from the Woman’s Medical College Endowment Fund Campaign, 1913-1918, and the Emergency Drive, 1918. It also contains newspaper clippings about Elizabeth Blackwell, M.D., and Ah Mae Wong; contemporary national events; and memorabilia. Scrapbook no. 2 (1935-1948) contains brochures, invitations, and announcements relating to honors and awards she received. It also holds newspaper clippings concerning her study on the prevention of uterine cancer, the Institute for Cancer Research at Fox Chase, Pennsylvania, and miscellaneous articles about discrimination against women physicians, and about Drs. Mary Wade Griscom, Louise Pearce, and other personnel at Woman’s Medical College. Scrapbook no. 3 (1936-1969) is comprised of letters and pamphlets concerning a fund-raising campaign for the expansion of Woman’s Medical College in the late 1950s; invitations; newspaper clippings about her cancer research, honors and awards she received, and about discrimination against women physicians; and Macfarlane's obituary (added by a friend or family member). Scrapbook no. 4 (1940-1951), apparently compiled by Macfarlane, contains miscellaneous speeches; invitations, brochures, and newspaper clippings dealing with Eve Curie's visit to the United States for the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of radium; and also the research, prevention, and treatment of cancer; and the history of and discrimination against women in medicine. Scrapbook no. 5 (1941-1948), compiled by Macfarlane, contains correspondence and newspaper clippings concerning a proposed merger of the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania with Jefferson Medical College. It also includes clippings and printed materials about Macfarlane's cancer research, and commissioning women in the Army; and obituaries of women physicians. The scrapbook entitled “This is Your Life” contains a copy of the script, and photographs, correspondence, and other memorabilia representing Macfarlane’s 1956 appearance on the television program.
Series X: Audio-visual and realia contains the film reel from Macfarlane’s 1956 appearance on the television program “This is Your Life” and film from her 1956 birthday dinner. There are 3 cases of glass lantern slides, apparently related to the Medical Women’s International Meeting in Scotland in 1937, which Macfarlane attended. Also included in this series are approximately 50 medical instruments owned by Macfarlane, and academic gowns. The photographs in this collection have been removed to the photograph collection.
This collection is comprised of 12 separate accessions: ACC-12, ACC-47, ACC 128-132; ACC 195, 1991.X.07, 1993.02A, X.2000.18, and 2005.14. The bulk of the material is found in ACC-47, which was previously processed 8 August 1978. The arrangement created by the previous processor was preserved, with the exception of Series VIII created for resprints; speeches/presentations included in Series III: Manuscripts; and all objects, photographs, and audio-visual materials contained in Series X: Audio-visual and realia.
The photographs from ACC-47 have been removed to the photograph collection. The film and other audio-visual materials are physically separated from the rest of the accession and stored with the A/V collection, as are the lantern slides. The academic gowns can be located in the textile/costume collection. Additionally, the medical instruments are stored within the Archive's 3D object collection. This was done when the accession was previously processed in 1978.
In June 2014, the accessions were intellectually rearranged so as to be more coherent and seamless; some phsycial rearrangement was also necessary. The framed objects from accessions 1991.x.07 and 2005.14 have been stored in the same lcoation, as are the objects from ACC-47 and 1993.02a. The lantern slides (2 boxes) have been stored in the A/V collection with the film reels. In addition, a complete inventory was created, along with a finding aid, of all materials created by or related to Catharine Macfarlane. All materials were rehoused.
Surgical gloves, part of the medical instruments from ACC-47, were beyond preservation and were discarded after being photographed on 4 June 2014. The photograph can be found in the control file for ACC-47.
Miscellaneous photographs: p358, p423A, p1942-p1946, p1948-p2007
"This is Your Life" album, 1956: p1920-p1941
Seven signed copies of a portrait: p1947
1899 'blueprint' photographs: p2541-p2547
Calendar photograph, 1905: p2548
Cancer crusade, 1945: p2549
This list can also be found in box 4, folder 4.
220; 253; 1359; 1493; 1494; 1497; 1500; 1501; 1824; 1979
2282; 2316; 2354b; 2354h; 2736
3194; 3438; 3443; 3608; 3609; 3649; 3985
4237; 4867; 4871; 4885 - 4901
This list can also be found in box 4, folder 4.
- American Cancer Society.
- American Medical Women's Association.
- Woman's Hospital of Philadelphia.
- Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania Hospital.
- Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania.
- Drexel University: College of Medicine Legacy Center
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Chrissie Perella