Dorothy Reed Mendenhall

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Dorothy Mabel Reed Mendenhall
Dorothy Mabel Reed Mendenhall.jpg
Dorothy Reed Mendenhall
Born(1874-09-22)September 22, 1874
DiedJuly 31, 1964(1964-07-31) (aged 89)
Alma materSmith College
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Dorothy Mabel Reed Mendenhall (September 22, 1874–July 31, 1964) was a prominent pediatric physician specializing in cellular pathology. In 1901, she discovered that Hodgkin's disease was not a form of tuberculosis, by noticing the presence of a special cell, the (Reed-Sternberg cell) which bears her name.[1] Dorothy was one of the first women to graduate from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She was also one of the first professionally trained female physicians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


Early life[edit]

Dorothy Mabel Reed was born on September 22, 1874 in Columbus, Ohio, the third child to parents Grace Kimball and William Pratt Reed. A child of privilege, Dorothy lived on a large estate with her parents, brother, sister, aunts, uncles, and several cousins. In 1880, William Reed died of diabetes and tuberculosis, leaving the family with a large sum of money[2] While living on the estate, Dorothy was educated by her grandmother and a governess.

Education and Professional Work[edit]

Reed's formal education began at Smith College in 1895,[3] where Dorothy discovered her passion for medicine in a biology class during her sophomore year. After discovering that Johns Hopkins School of Medicine had begun to accept women, Dorothy took the required science courses at MIT [4] and later applied to the school.[5]

Dorothy graduated fourth in her class in 1900, and was awarded a prestigious internship at Johns Hopkins Hospital, serving under Dr.William Osler. Originally, Dr. Osler told Dorothy the internship was "not a place for women," although he later said he did not want to be seen as hostile to women entering the medical school.[6] Being accepted as a professional peer was a continual challenge to Reed in the male-dominated field of medicine at that time. Both professors and other students told her they thought that a medical education was "wasted" on a woman, since they thought she would eventually get married, have children, and never practice medicine.

Upon graduation, Reed was offered an internship in an insane asylum, which she declined in order to study pathology instead. She became a pathology fellow under the direction of Dr.William Welch. Again, she faced a lack of advancement opportunities. Dorothy and her colleagues were more interested in working in medicine than in spearheading a feminist movement, [7] and her diary reflected this, with some entries discussing how some female students were overly sensitive, for which she had little tolerance. Dorothy and her classmates Margaret Long and Florence Sabin were viewed as a different kind of female physician--ones who were not especially concerned with the feminist movement, but who rather cared most passionately about their work in medicine.

As she continued her work in pathology, Reed also taught bacteriology, assisted with autopsies, and undertook research on Hodgkin's disease.[8]

In 1901, when she was only 28, Reed made her most recognized contribution to medical science: the discovery of the Reed-Sternberg cell, which she identified as a diagnostic marker for Hodgkin's lymphoma. She compared tissue samples from TB and Hodgkin's patients, and observed in Hodgkins patients a large distinctive cell not seen in TB patients. This cell would initially be named the Dorothy Reed Cell, before later being named the Reed-Sternberg cell. Reed also effectively disproved the then-common belief that Hodgkin's Lymphoma was a subtype of tuberculosis. By testing rabbits, she found that animals with the cell were not contagious, as opposed to the highly contagious TB, and that the cell represented the presence of cancer, not infection. She published her findings in 1902.

Since she found a lack of advancement opportunities in pathology, Reed accepted the first internship in pediatrics at the Babies Hospital in New York City, now the Babies & Children's Hospital – part of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. She worked under the direction or L. E. Holt, a pioneer of pediatrics, and the author of The Care and Feeding of Children. Holt was less than respectful of female physicians.

Family life[edit]

Reed left New York to marry Charles Mendenhall, who was moving to Madison, Wisconsin, to accept a position in physics at the University of Wisconsin in 1906; Charles later became chairman of that department. The two met when Dorothy was a medical student at Johns Hopkins. After having children, Reed again became active in medicine by initiating public health education, and disseminating important findings about children's health.

Dorothy and Charles Mendenhall had four children. The first, a daughter, died one day after birth; the second, a son, died at age one in an accident. Her third child, John "Blackjack" Mendenhall, became a renowned physician and faculty member at University of Wisconsin Medical School. He initially followed his mother's footsteps, taking a residency in pathology. Following his service in World War II, however, he became a thoracic surgeon. Reed's youngest son, Thomas C. Mendenhall, became a professor of history at Yale University, and served as the sixth president of Smith College, her alma mater.


Reed published two books, including Milk: The Indispensable Food for Children[9] and What is Happening to Mothers and Babies in the District of Columbia?[10] Both titles were accredited by the US Department of Labor.

Milk: the Indispensable Food for Children asserts that dairy milk is essential for a child to develop appropriate height, weight, and bone formation. The book states that milk is high in protein, vitamins and minerals, and that it is an inexpensive high-quality source of protein. The superiority of milk as a protein source and its benefits for bone health have been challenged in the years since.

What is Happening to Mothers and Babies in the District of Columbia? was written in response to a spike in infant mortality in 1925 in the District of Columbia. Reed conducted a study over three years to try to understand the disturbing trend. She found that in life expectancy was slightly higher for white babies than African-American babies, and posited that babies in urban areas had higher mortality rates.


Reed died of heart disease on July 31, 1964, at the age of 89.


  1. ^ "Celebrating America's Women Physician: Changing the Face of Medicine". National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  2. ^ Weigand, Kate. “Dorothy Reed Mendenhall Papers.” Five College Archives & Manuscript Collections. Sophia Smith Collection, 2001.
  3. ^ "Dorothy Reed Mendenhall papers". Smith College Archives.
  4. ^ Ker Conway, Jil. "Written by Herself: Volume I: Autobiographies of American Women: An Anthology".
  5. ^ Zwitter, Matjaz, Joel Cohen, Ann Barrett, and Elizabeth B. Robinton. "Dorothy Reed and Hodgkin’s Disease: A Reflection After a Century." International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics 53.2 (2002): 366-75.
  6. ^ Zwitter, Matjaz, Joel Cohen, Ann Barrett, and Elizabeth B. Robinton. "Dorothy Reed and Hodgkin’s Disease: A Reflection After a Century." International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics 53.2 (2002): 366-75
  7. ^ Shrager, Joseph B. "Three Women at Johns Hopkins: Private Perspectives on Medical Coeducation in the 1890s", Annals of Internal Medicine. 115.7 (1991): 564-69.
  8. ^ "The Women of The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine". The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
  9. ^ Mendenhall, Dorothy Mabel (Reed). Milk: The Indispensable Food for Children. Washington: U.S. Dept. of Labor, Children’s Bureau, 1926. Print.
  10. ^ Mendenhall, Dorothy Reed. What is Happening to Mothers and Babies in the District of Columbia? Washington: U.S. Dept. of Labor, 1928. Print.

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