Making History: Women’s History Month
Meet the Women Who Challenged and Changed History at Northwestern Medicine
Published March 2022
Ranked the No. 1 hospital in Illinois by U.S. News & World Report, 2021 – 2022, Northwestern Memorial Hospital has always been on the relentless quest for better medicine.
Here are some of the women who have made history at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and its predecessor hospitals, Passavant and Wesley, dating back to 1865.
Bertha L. Knapp, RN
During the 35-year tenure of Bertha L. Knapp, RN, as superintendent of nurses and director of the school of nursing at Wesley Memorial Hospital, more than 1,000 students graduated from what was regarded as one of the nation's finest nursing schools. Knapp was appointed the first chair of the Illinois Board of Nurse Examiners in 1913 and served as director of the Illinois League of Nursing Education and State Nurses Association. Upon her retirement in 1943, the Board of Trustees conferred Emeritus status to Knapp — the only woman to be awarded this honor by the hospital.
Maria J. Mergler, MD
Chicago medical history credits Maria J. Mergler, MD, with invaluable contributions to Wesley Hospital during its formative years. Dr. Mergler was a professor of gynecology and dean of the Woman's Medical College (later Northwestern University Woman's Medical School) and she is credited with improving educational opportunities for female physicians. Her appointment as staff gynecologist at Wesley in 1890 brought about important improvements in both physical facilities and standards of care. Her untimely death in 1901 at the age of 50 was attributed mainly to exhaustion and overwork.
Kathleen G. Murray
Kathleen Murray was an integral part of Northwestern Memorial Hospital leadership for eighteen years. She began in 1986 as vice president of patient services and was promoted to senior vice president, executive vice president and chief operating officer, and finally, president and CEO of Northwestern Memorial Foundation. Murray was involved with strategic and operational initiatives including financial management improvements, planning and construction of the redevelopment project and the new Northwestern Medicine Prentice Women's Hospital. Before retiring in 2004, she also chaired the Governing Council for Metropolitan Hospitals of the American Hospital Association in 1998 and the board of the Illinois Hospital Association in 2002.
Isabella Oakland was a Lutheran nurse deaconess who almost single-handedly cared for patients while serving as acting matron at the small hospital that later became Passavant Memorial Hospital. Although only in her late teens, Oakland's endurance and loyalty made it possible for the Chicago hospital to survive between 1865 and 1871. When the hospital was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire, Oakland continued her nursing career for many years at hospitals in Pittsburgh, PA, Jacksonville, FL, Illinois and Denver.
Florence Olmstead, RN
For nearly four decades, Florence Olmstead, RN, directed nursing services at the community outpatient clinics of Northwestern University Medical School. Her energy, enthusiasm and selfless devotion to both patients and physicians and nurses in training made her an efficient and valuable community resource. Shortly after Olmstead graduated from the nursing school at Wesley Hospital in 1907, she joined the pediatric clinic of the medical school and became the head nurse. She was later named Montgomery Ward Clinics Supervisor of Nursing, a post she held until retiring in 1945.
The unofficial "goodwill ambassador" of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Regina Puckett-Kent's career spanned 43 years from 1967 – 2010 in a variety of human resources roles, managing areas from affirmative action to staff recognition. Regina was a Lifetime Achievement Awardee of the United Way of Chicago. Among the numerous employee and community programs she directed, the following bear her imprint:
- Patients First
- Crusade of Mercy
- March of Dimes
- Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Day
- Adopt a School
- Black & Hispanic Achievement Awards
- The annual holiday choir
Beatrice E. Tucker, MD
A leading Chicago obstetrician and humanitarian, Beatrice E. Tucker, MD, is remembered for safely delivering babies in the homes of women who were medically underserved throughout the city. Among her many firsts: first female intern at Evanston Hospital; first female resident at Chicago Lying-in Hospital. She served on the faculty of Northwestern University Medical School and its affiliated hospitals from 1933 until 1973 and was the medical director of the Chicago Maternity Center from 1932 to 1973. Under Dr. Tucker's leadership, more than 100,000 babies were delivered, primarily at home, and thousands of physicians received valuable obstetrical training.
Augusta Webster, MD
Devoting her professional career to teaching and public service, Augusta Webster, MD, was a member of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology for more than 50 years. She was the first woman to attain the rank of full professor at Northwestern University Medical School (now Northwestern Medicine Feinberg School of Medicine), the first woman to serve an internship at Passavant and its first female resident in obstetrics.
In addition to serving on the staff at Passavant and the Chicago Maternity Center, in 1960 Cook County Hospital named her chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology, making her the first woman in the nation to chair a department at a major teaching hospital. A founding fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dr. Webster established the first nurse-midwife program in Illinois, served as state director of the American Cancer Society and was named "Woman of the Year" by the American Medical Women's Association in 1954.