Virginia Apgar examining a newborn baby in 1966
June 7, 1909|
Westfield, New Jersey
|Died||August 7, 1974
New York City
Virginia Apgar (7 June 1909–7 August 1974) was an American obstetrical anesthesiologist. She was a leader in the fields of anesthesiology and teratology, and introduced obstetrical considerations to the established field of neonatology. To the public, however, she is best known as the developer of the Apgar score, a method of assessing the health of newborn babies that has drastically reduced infant mortality over the world.
The youngest of three children, Apgar was born and raised in Westfield, New Jersey, graduating from Westfield High School in 1925. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1929 and the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (CUCPS) in 1933. She completed a residency in surgery at CUCPS in 1937. However, she was discouraged from practicing surgery by Allen Whipple, the chair of surgery at CUCPS. She further trained in anesthesia and returned to CUCPS in 1938 as director of the newly formed division of anesthesia.
In 1949, Apgar became the first woman to become a full professor at CUCPS while she also did clinical and research work at the affiliated Sloane Hospital for Women. In 1959, she earned a Master of Public Health degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. In 1953, she introduced the first test, called the Apgar score, to assess the health of newborn babies. The Apgar score is calculated based on an infant's condition at one minute and five minutes after birth. If the five-minute Apgar score is low, additional scores may be assigned every five minutes.
During the rubella pandemic of 1964-65, Apgar became an outspoken advocate for universal vaccination to prevent mother-to-child transmission of rubella. Rubella can cause serious congenital disorders if a woman becomes infected while pregnant. Between 1964-65, the United States had an estimated 12.5 million rubella cases, which led to 11,000 miscarriages or therapeutic abortions and 20,000 cases of congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). Of these, 2,100 died in infancy, 12,000 were deaf, 3,580 suffered blindness due to cataracts and/or microphthalmia, and 1,800 were mentally retarded. In New York City alone, CRS affected 1% of all births at that time. Apgar also promoted effective use of Rh testing, which can identify women who are at risk for transmission of maternal antibodies across the placenta where they may subsequently bind with and destroy fetal red blood cells, resulting in fetal hydrops or even miscarriage.
From 1959 until her death in 1974, Apgar worked for the March of Dimes Foundation, serving as vice president for Medical Affairs and directing its research program to prevent and treat birth defects. Because gestational age is directly related to an infant’s Apgar score, Apgar was one of the first at the March of Dimes to bring attention to the problem of premature birth, now one of the March of Dimes top priorities.
While Apgar was frequently the first or only woman in a department to serve in a position or win an accolade, she avoided the organized women's movement, proclaiming that "women are liberated from the time they leave the womb". Apgar was equally at home speaking to teens as she was to the movers and shakers of society. She spoke at March of Dimes Youth Conferences about teen pregnancy and congenital disorders at a time when these topics were considered taboo. Apgar never married, and died on August 7, 1974 at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. She is buried at Fairview Cemetery in Westfield.
Honors and awards 
- Honorary doctorate, Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania (1964)
- Honorary doctorate, Mount Holyoke College (1965)
- Distinguished Service Award from the American Society of Anesthesiologists (1966)
- Elizabeth Blackwell Award, from the American Women's Medical Association (1966)
- Honorary doctorate, New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry (1967)
- Alumni Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (1973)
- Ralph M. Waters Award, American Society of Anesthesiologists (1973)
- Woman of the Year in Science, Ladies Home Journal (1973)
Apgar has continued to earn posthumous recognition for her contributions and achievements. In 1994, she was honored by the United States Postal Service with a 20¢ Great Americans series postage stamp. In November 1995 she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. In 1999 she was designated a Women's History Month Honoree by the National Women's History Project.
- The Virginia Apgar Papers, United States National Library of Medicine. Accessed March 5, 2011.
- Changing Face of Medicine
- Women in Medicine Exhibit Resources
- Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
- "ACOG Committee Opinion: The Apgar Score". American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Retrieved May 14, 2013.
- Todd P. Dezen, Elizabeth Lynch (2011). "March of Dimes Honors 100th Anniversary Of Virginia Apgar". White Plains, New York: March of Dimes Foundation. Retrieved 2011-05-15.
- Pan American Health Organization (1998). "Public Health Burden of Rubella and CRS". EPI Newsletter XX (4). Retrieved 2011-05-15.
- Brief biography, National Library of Medicine, The Virginia Apgar Papers.
- "Honorees: 2010 National Women’s History Month". Women's History Month. National Women's History Project. 2010. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
More information 
- Pearce JM (2005). "Virginia Apgar (1909-1974): neurological evaluation of the newborn infant". European Neurology 54 (3): 132–4. doi:10.1159/000089084. PMID 16244485.
- Goodwin JW (March 2002). "A personal recollection of Virginia Apgar". Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada 24 (3): 248–9. PMID 12585247.
- Goldman R, Blickstein I (February 2001). "Dr. Virginia Apgar--1909-1974" [Dr. Virginia Apgar--1909-1974]. Harefuah (in Hebrew) 140 (2): 177–8. PMID 11242930.
- Mazana Casanova JS (11 November 2000). "Virginia Apgar y su test posnatal medio siglo después" [Virginia Apgar and her postnatal test half a century later]. Anales Españoles De Pediatría (in Spanish) 53 (5): 469. doi:10.1016/S1695-4033(00)78630-9.
- Baskett TF (November 2000). "Virginia Apgar and the newborn Apgar score". Resuscitation 47 (3): 215–7. doi:10.1016/S0300-9572(00)00340-3. PMID 11114450.
- Jay V (1999). "On a historical note: Dr. Virginia apgar". Pediatric and Developmental Pathology 2 (3): 292–4. doi:10.1007/s100249900126. PMID 10191354.
- Morishima HO (November 1996). "Virginia Apgar (1909-1974)". The Journal of Pediatrics 129 (5): 768–70. doi:10.1016/S0022-3476(96)70170-1. PMID 8917248.
- Shampo MA, Kyle RA (July 1995). "Virginia Apgar--the Apgar score". Mayo Clinic Proceedings 70 (7): 680. doi:10.4065/70.7.680. PMID 7791393.
- Butterfield LJ (September 1994). "Virginia Apgar, MD, MPhH". Neonatal Network 13 (6): 81–3. PMID 7854290.
- Butterfield LJ (1994). "Virginia Apgar, MD, MPhH (1909-1974)". Journal of Perinatology 14 (4): 310. PMID 7965228.
- Ignatius J (1993). "Virginia Apgar 1909-1974" [Virginia Apgar 1909-1974]. Duodecim (in Finnish) 109 (1): 54–5. PMID 8013307.
- Appelgren L (April 1991). "The woman behind the Apgar score. Virginia Apgar. The woman behind the scoring system for quality control of the newborn" [The woman behind the Apgar score. Virginia Apgar. The woman behind the scoring system for quality control of the newborn]. Läkartidningen (in Swedish) 88 (14): 1304–6. PMID 2016983.
- Wilhelmson-Lindell B (October 1990). "Virginia Apgar Award to Petter Karlberg. After 45 years of pioneering commission as a pediatrician, the research on body-soul-environment is tempting" [Virginia Apgar Award to Petter Karlberg. After 45 years of pioneering commission as a pediatrician, the research on body-soul-environment is tempting]. Läkartidningen (in Swedish) 87 (40): 3198–200. PMID 2232990.
- Kovács J (September 1989). "In commemoration of Virginia Apgar" [In commemoration of Virginia Apgar]. Orvosi Hetilap (in Hungarian) 130 (38): 2049–50. PMID 2677904.
- Calmes SH (1984). "Virginia Apgar: a woman physician's career in a developing specialty". Journal of the American Medical Women's Association 39 (6): 184–8. PMID 6392395.
- Schoenberg DG, Schoenberg BS (January 1977). "Eponym: yes, Virginia, there is an Apgar score". Southern Medical Journal 70 (1): 101. doi:10.1097/00007611-197701000-00046. PMID 320667.
- Frey R, Bendixen H (January 1977). "In memoriam Virginia Apgar 1909-1974" [In memoriam Virginia Apgar 1909-1974]. Der Anaesthesist (in German) 26 (1): 45. PMID 319701.
- James LS (1976). "Dedication to Virginia Apgar, MD". Birth Defects Original Article Series 12 (5): xx–xxi. PMID 782603.
- James LS (January 1975). "Fond memories of Virginia Apgar". Pediatrics 55 (1): 1–4. PMID 1089236.
- James LW (December 1974). "Memories of Virginia Apgar". Teratology 10 (3): 213–5. doi:10.1002/tera.1420100302. PMID 4617325.
- Apgar, Virginia (1973). Is my baby all right? A guide to birth defects. New York: Pocket Books. ISBN 0-671-78707-1.
- Biography from Profiles in Science
- Mount Holyoke biography
- Columbia biography
- The Virginia Apgar Papers - Profiles in Science, National Library of Medicine
- MIT biography
- National Women's Hall of Fame
- Changing the Face of Medicine
- Full biography on WhoNamedIt.com
- Grandnephew's memorial page at apga