HMS LXX: 70 Years of Women at Harvard Medical School

By , November 15, 2016


Excerpts from an oral history interview with Raquel E. Cohen, member of HMS’ first coeducational class compiled for HMS LXX

On October 21, 2016, Harvard Medical School celebrated over 70 years of women at Harvard Medical School. The event highlighted several milestones, including the 70th anniversary of Harvard Medical School’s first coeducational class, the appointment of the 250th woman as a full professor, the 20th anniversary of the Eleanor and Miles Shore 50th Anniversary Fellowship Program for Scholars in Medicine, which supports junior faculty, the funding of the Elizabeth D. Hay Professorship in Cell Biology, the 10th anniversary of the Archives for Women in Medicine, and over 40 years of the Joint Committee on the Status of Women.

The event featured a series of curated conversations with women in medicine, from medical students to international leaders in health, addressing issues of women’s leadership, challenges faced by women in medicine, and work done by women at the forefront of women’s health. The event was punctuated by a keynote conversation with Shirley Tilghman, President Emerita of Princeton University and member of The Harvard Corporation.

First class of women accepted to Harvard Medical School, 1945. (HMS, Classes and Reunions, 00100.057)

First class of women accepted to Harvard Medical School, 1945. (HMS, Classes and Reunions, 00100.057). Cohen is pictured in the top row, second to right.

The “Women’s View at HMS: Then and Now” panel featured a video excerpting highlights from Raquel Cohen’s 2006 oral history interview. Cohen, an internationally recognized expert in the field of intervention and assistance to survivors of disasters, earned her Master of Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health in 1942, and was a student in Harvard Medical School’s first coeducational class, graduating in 1949.

Although Dr. Cohen could not attend HMS LXX in person, highlights of her oral history, curated by Project Archivist for the Archives for Women in Medicine Joan Ilacqua, detail just a few moments of her fascinating life story. Dr. Cohen’s full oral history is available via Onview, and additional oral histories with women leaders in medicine and the medical sciences are available at:

To learn more about the Archives for Women in Medicine, visit:

4 Responses to “HMS LXX: 70 Years of Women at Harvard Medical School”

  1. Sarita Austin says:

    I just read this article about my mom,Dr.Raquel Cohen. Unfortunately,my sister and I were both traveling during the 70th Anniversary Celebration of women at HMS or else one or both of us would have escorted my mom to this wonderful celebration.
    My mom continues to read 2-3 articles a day from various medical journals and research institutes. Every time I open my email there is an article my mom has sent me on the latest research about the brain. She continues to be curious,engaged,and a true lifelong learner.

    I was delighted to read about the 250th woman who has been
    given a full professorship at HMS. If you have a chance to look a my mom’s website (raquelcohendisaster) you will see a small portion of the research and publications she has accomplished over her lifetime.She remained an Associate Professor of Psychiatry her entire tenure at HMS until 1980 when she accepted a position at the Uniiversity of Miami as a Full Professor.

    In closing, I want to thank you for the recognition of the accomplishments and contributions these pioneering women made to furthering the advancement of medicine and allieviating suffering.

    Sarita Cohen Austin

  2. Joan Ilacqua says:

    Dear Sarita,

    Thank you for your comment! It has been my pleasure working with Dr. Cohen on establishing a collection here at the Center and with the HMS LXX committee to highlight just a few of the wonderful stories from her 2006 oral history. She is quite an inspiration!

    Joan Ilacqua, Project Archivist, Archives for Women in Medicine

  3. So proud of you, Mom!

  4. Maria Elena Torano says:

    A barely known but significant contribution made by Dr. Cohen to the development of women was a leadership training program, implemented by the National Hispana Leadership Institute – NHLI – from 1986 to 2014. With private sector funding raised by the Institute and Dr. Cohen’s foresight we created an Executive Leadership Program which selected and trained twenty five Hispanic women, recognized as leaders at the local or regional levels.
    The annual program we designed included four weeks of training, conducted at the Kennedy School of Government, the Center for Creative Leadership and a final week in Washington meeting with political and government leaders who dictated policy on their future careers. This program which lasted twenty eight years saw many of their women achieve prominence in their various fields. Governement and Public Office, Diplomacy, Corporate and Non Profit enterprisers were all impacted by the socially conscious and service oriented leaders.
    South Florida has much to thank Dr. Cohen for. Personally she was a dear friend and mentor who enriched my life through counsel and her quite Leadership.
    Maria Elena Toraño. Founder and Chair Emeritus, National Hispana Leadership Institute.

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