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Helen Brooke Taussig, M.D.


photo Helen Taussig

Dr. Helen Brooke Taussig, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is considered the founder of pediatric cardiology. She received her baccalaureate degree in 1921 from the University of California. Later, after being told that a woman could not earn a degree from the Harvard School of Public Health, she entered the Boston University Medical School. She transferred two years later to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, from which she graduated in 1927.

Denied an internship in medicine at Johns Hopkins University Hospital because another woman from her class had already been accepted, Taussig accepted an internship in pediatrics. In 1930, she was made head of the Cardiac Clinic in the Harriet Lane Home of Johns Hopkins. She retired from there as physician-in-charge in 1963.

In 1944, Taussig and Dr. Alfred Blalock, a Johns Hopkins surgeon, developed the famous operation to alleviate the "blue baby" syndrome. The "blue baby syndrome" is a condition in which a child is born with a congenital heart defect that results in a bluish tinge to the skin because too little blood passes from the heart to the lungs. Prior to the development of this operation, the condition almost always meant a life of severely restricted activity and an early death.

It was also in her capacity as a pediatric cardiologist that Taussig began investigating and alerting the public to the dangers of the drug Thalidomide.

Taussig amassed an impressive list of firsts. In 1959, she became the first woman to be made a full professor at the Johns Hopkins Medical School. In 1965, she became the first woman president of the American Heart Association. In 1972, she was named the first woman Master in the American College of Physicians. In 1973, she was among the first 20 women in the United States to be inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. In addition, she was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the American government, in 1964.

Biography courtesy of the Maryland Commission for Women, 1987.

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