Eliot's first important research, community studies of rickets in New Haven, Connecticut, and Puerto Rico, explored issues at the heart of social medicine. Together with Edwards A. Park, her research established that public health measures (dietary supplementation with vitamin D) could prevent and reverse the early onset of rickets.
Martha May Eliot was a scion of the Eliot family, an influential American family that is regarded as one of the Boston Brahmins, originating in Boston, whose ancestors became wealthy and held sway over the American education system in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her father, Christopher Rhodes Eliot, was a Unitarian minister, and her grandfather, William G. Eliot, was the first chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis. The poet, playwright, critic, and Nobel laureate T.S. Eliot was her first cousin.
In 1918, Eliot graduated from medical school at Johns Hopkins University. As early as her second year of medical school, Dr. Eliot hoped to become "some kind of social doctor." She taught at Yale University's department of pediatrics from 1921 to 1935. For most of these years, Dr. Eliot also directed the National Children's Bureau Division of Child and Maternal Health (1924–1934). She later accepted a full-time position at the bureau, becoming bureau chief in 1951. In 1956, she left the bureau to become department chairman of child and maternal health at Harvard School of Public Health.
@The Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. Martha May Eliot (left) and Ethel Collins Dunham, 1915
Martha May Eliot was a foremost pediatrician and specialist in public health, an assistant director for WHO, and an architect of New Deal for maternal and child health. During undergraduate study at Bryn Mawr College she met Ethel Collins Dunham, who was to become her life partner. In the 1970s they wrote day after day: "Dearest, it was hard to say goodbye and I shall miss you terribly.. Ever and ever so much love, my darling"; "How I count the time until you do arrive. I miss you my darling".
During her tenure at the Children's Bureau, Eliot helped establish government programs that implemented her ideas about social medicine, and she was responsible for drafting most of the Social Security Act's language dealing with maternal and child health. During World War II, she administered the Emergency Maternity and Infant Care program, which provided maternity care for greater than 1 million servicemen's wives. After the war, she held influential positions in both the World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). From 1949 to 1951, Eliot worked as an assistant director for WHO in Geneva. In 1959, Martha accepted a post as chair of the Massachusetts Commission on Children and Youth, a position she held for a decade.
She served as the chief architect of health provisions for children in the 1935 US Social Security Act, that mandated that every state establish child health services. In 1946, she served as the vice chair of the US delegation to the International Health Conference and on behalf of the US, signed the constitution that established the World Health Organization (she was the only woman to sign WHO's constitution).
Martha Jane Eliot shared her personal life in a long emotional and domestic partnership with Ethel Collins Dunham, also a pioneering female pediatrician, who was made the first female member of the American Pediatric Society and was awarded its highest award, the Howland Medal, in 1957.
Lilian Faderman, the landmark scholar, writes: "[At] Bryn Mawr..she met a twenty-six year old freshman, Ethel Dunham. From 1910 to Ethel's death in 1969, the two women were inseparable. As a couple, Martha Eliot and Ethel Dunham..succeeded in times that were as unsympathetic to professional women as they were to lesbians. Their domestic satisfaction crept constantly into Martha's letters back home: "E. keeps me out doors which is great. This P.M. we are going canoeing. Tonight we are having supper here - oyster omelet, a concoction of Ethel's - and apple sauce and toast and nutbread." " Their partnership nourished and sustained them through their entire adult lives. In the 1970s, during Martha's travels for WHO, they wrote day after day: "Dearest, it was hard to say goodbye and I shall miss you terribly.. Ever and ever so much love, my darling"; "How I count the time until you do arrive. I miss you my darling".
Bert Hansen writes: "While Dunham and Eliot are each worthy of individual attention, their shared personal life has such an intimate connection with their careers that a combined narrative better illustrates their close relationship of 59 years. They achieved major professional positions at Yale, at Harvard, and in government, even while they were making careful career choices to maintain the continuity of their domestic partnership. Each was also accorded public honors for leadership in pediatrics, child welfare, and public health."
Ethel Collins Dunham and her life-partner, Martha May Eliot, devoted their lives to the care of children. Dunham focused on premature babies and newborns, becoming chief of child development at the Children's Bureau in 1935. She established national standards for the hospital care of newborn children, and expanded the scope of health care for growing youngsters by monitoring their progress in regular home visits by Children's Bureau staff.
Ethel Collins Dunham was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1883 to Samuel G. Dunham, a wealthy utility executive, and Alice Collins. She graduated from high school in 1901 and spent the next two years at boarding school. After several years of travel and leisure pursuits, she decided she wanted to study medicine and enrolled in a physics class at Hartford High School. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1914, and began her medical training at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine that same year with her friend and life partner, Martha May Eliot.
Dunham completed an internship in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital under Dr. John Howland, and then served as the first woman house officer at New Haven Hospital. She became one of Yale School of Medicine's first female professors. She was appointed instructor at Yale School of Medicine in 1920, promoted to assistant professor in 1924 and associate clinical professor in 1927. During this time she developed a special interest in improving the health of premature and newborn babies. She introduced numerous innovations at Yale, including buying a car so that interns could perform home visits for new mothers and their babies. She also reorganized the dispensary appointment system and negotiated with the chief of obstetrics to allow pediatricians to help care for new babies in the hospital nursery. In 1933 she presented her research on neonatal mortality and morbidity to the American Pediatric Society, which then appointed her head of its committee on neonatal studies.
In 1935 Dunham was appointed chief of child development at the Children's Bureau, a national agency established in 1912 to improve the health and welfare of American children. Martha May Eliot had been appointed assistant chief. Dunham's first initiative was to investigate the treatment of premature babies and establish national standards for the care of newborns. The results of her first study appeared in 1936, and in 1943 her guidelines were published as Standards and Recommendations for the Hospital Care of Newborn Infants, Full Term and Premature. She also launched new programs to take hospital health care into the homes of new mothers, via the efforts of a public health nurse and a Children's Bureau social worker, who followed the progress of babies after their discharge from New York Hospital. Once again, the results of her survey shaped policies and practices in many health districts. From 1949 to 1951 she studied the problem of premature birth with an international team of experts for the World Health Organization in Geneva.
Dunham retired in 1952. In 1957 the American Pediatric Society awarded her their highest honor, the John Howland Medal. Dunham was the first woman pediatrician to receive the award. Her partner, Martha May Eliot was the second, honored in 1967.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Amazon: Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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