Emily Dunning Barringer was born 27 September 1876 in Scarsdale, New York, to Edwin James Dunning and Frances Gore Lang. She grew up in a well-to-do New York family that fell on financial hard times when she was about ten years old, forcing her father to seek his fortune in Europe. Barringer’s mother knew that a young woman without an education or profession was at great disadvantage, so when a well-meaning friend suggested that young Emily might become a milliner’s apprentice her mother said, “That settles the question. You are going to go to college.” Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi recommended Cornell University’s medical preparatory course. Barringer’s uncle, Henry Sage, a founder of Cornell, agreed to pay her tuition, and other family friends helped with expenses. When Barringer graduated in 1897, she chose to attend the College of Medicine of the New York Infirmary, which merged with the new Cornell University School of Medicine during her sophomore year.
Emily Dunning married Benjamin Barringer the day after she finished her residency in 1904. The couple had a son and a daughter. After a short stay in Vienna, where both Barringers attended classes, they returned to New York, where Emily Barringer took a position on the gynecological staff at New York Polyclinic Hospital. She was also an attending surgeon at the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, where she specialized in the study of venereal diseases. During World War I she was vice chair of the American Women’s Hospitals War Service Committee of the National Medical Women’s Association (later the American Medical Women’s Association). She spearheaded a campaign to raise money for the purchase of ambulances to be sent to Europe. In 1902 she became the first woman medical resident at Gouverneur Hospital and the first woman ambulance physician to work there. Her experience in getting and keeping her medical residency, with the help of Mary Putnam Jacobi, M.D., and others, illustrates the many barriers that women doctors still faced in 1900. Barringer’s fellow medical residents assigned her difficult “on call” schedules and ward duties, and harassed her in other ways. Her autobiography illustrates the value of support from mentors, family, friends, nursing staff, and the public. She was a novelty for the Lower East Side neighborhood she served, and a good story for the New York papers.
After World War I, she became an attending surgeon at Brooklyn’s Kingston Avenue Hospital and subsequently its director of gynecology. She was a member of the American Medical Association and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and of the New York Academy of Medicine. In 1941 she was elected president of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA), and was in the news once more as she fought for women’s right to hold appointments in the Army and Navy Medical Corps during World War II. While women could serve as contract surgeons in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, as they were not commissioned officers they did not receive the accompanying military benefits available to men. Barringer chaired a special AMWA committee that lobbied Congress for military commissions for women physicians, and in April 1943, the Sparkman Act was signed into law.
Emily Dunning Barringer Full Biography and Profile
Dr. Emily Dunning Barringer, a long-time resident of New Canaan, Conn., was an established physician and pioneer for women in medicine when she wrote her autobiography, Bowery to Bellevue: The Story of New York’s First Woman Ambulance Surgeon, in 1950. The book contained details of Barringer’s determination to overcome the barriers that limited female physicians at the turn of the century; her experiences as New York City’s first female ambulance surgeon; and her appointment as the first woman to serve on the staff of a general municipal hospital in the city.
Emily Dunning was born 27 September 1876 in 1876 in Scarsdale, N.Y., to Edwin James Dunning and Frances Gore Lang who believed that all children, regardless of gender, should be trained to support themselves. Even after the family experienced financial difficulty, her mother insisted she go to college, and she earned her medical degree from the Cornell University School of Medicine in 1901, a time when few women trained as physicians. After completing her residency in 1904, Emily Dunning married Dr. Benjamin Barringer and quickly found herself frustrated by the lack of opportunity available to her by comparison with her physician husband.
At the suggestion of her mentor, Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi, Emily Dunning Barringer took the qualifying exam for an internship position at Gouverneur Hospital of New York. Despite receiving the second highest grade, her application was denied because of her gender. At the time, the options available to female physicians were limited to the few hospitals that served exclusively women and children. Reapplying one year later and supported by lobbying from political and religious figures, she was accepted, becoming the first woman physician to receive post-graduate surgical training in hospital service and the first female ambulance surgeon.
After her acceptance, Barringer faced resentment and outright hostility from her male colleagues who did not think women should work in the environment of the street and saloon; however, they unsuccessfully petitioned to deny her appointment. Nevertheless, Barringer persevered, earning the respect of both previously skeptical colleagues and her patients who lived in the tenements of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Dr. Barringer went on to a distinguished career in medicine that spanned 50 years, serving as director of gynecology at the Kingston Avenue Hospital and as a surgeon at the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. She worked for legislation that would control the spread of venereal disease and authored numerous articles on gynecology. As Chairman of the Special Committee of the American Medical Women’s Association, Dr. Barringer was decorated by the King of Serbia for championing the service of female physicians during World War I.
As co-chair of the War Service Committee, she organized the American Women’s Hospital in Europe, which provided medical and surgical care during the war and post-war reconstruction. During World War II, Dr. Barringer successfully lobbied Congress to allow woman physicians to serve as commissioned officers in the medical corps of the Army and Navy. She was also an advocate for women’s suffrage and improved access to health care, especially in women’s prisons.
After the births of their three children, Dr. Barringer and her husband first purchased land for a summer home in New Canaan, Conn., in 1915. After World War II, they made New Canaan their full-time residence and it was here that Dr. Barringer wrote her autobiography. Bowery to Bellevue was subsequently turned into a movie entitled The Girl in White (1952) starring June Allyson as Emily Dunning Barringer.
Dr. Barringer died on April 8, 1961 in New Milford, Conn. Her groundbreaking career paved the way for generations of women in the medical profession.
Emily Dunning Barringer Biography and Profile (CF Medicine / CWHF)