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Dorothy Hansine Andersen

Born 1901-05-15
Died 1963

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American paediatrician and pathologist, born May 15, Asheville, North Carolina, 1901; died 1963.

Biography of Dorothy Hansine Andersen

Dorothy Hansine Andersen's father, Hans Peter Andersen, had moved from the Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea to the USA. Her mother, Mary Louise Mason, belonged to an old New England family. When her father died in 1914, Dorothy, barely an adolescent, was prematurely thrust into adulthood, taking the full responsible of caring for her invalid mother. They moved north to St. Johnsbury, Vermont, where Dorothy attended to her mother until her death in 1920.

After graduating Bachelor of Arts at Mount Holyoke College in 1922, Dorothy enrolled at the Johns Hopkins Medical School. Her first major research studied was conducted in the laboratory of Florence Rena Sabin (1871-1953), who was considered to be one of the leading women scientists of the United States. Andersen's first two papers, reporting on the anatomy of specific organs of the reproductive system, were published in Contributions to Embryology.

She received a degree in medicine from Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1926, completing a surgical internship at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. Despite her impressive record, the hospital stuck to its policy barring women from appointment in the surgery and pathology departments, and Andersen was forced to seek employment at another institution. In 1929 she was appointed assistant at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New York's Columbia University. Here she embarked on her study of the role of glands in the female reproductive cycle.

In 1930 she was appointed to Columbia's medical faculty as an instructor in pathology, and five years later, in 1935, she joined the staff at Babies' Hospital and subsequently served as pathologist and paediatrician at both Babies Hospital and Presbyterian Hospital in New York.

It was at the Babies' Hospital that Dorothy Andersen began her celebrated collection of infants' hearts showing various congenital defects. Here she came in contact with celiak patients. One case was specially interesting and was to initiate a comprehensive study leading to her classic work on cystic fibrosis.

Later years
In 1952 Andersen took over as chief of pathology at Babies' Hospital. Appointed full professor in 1958, she spent the last years of her life studying cystic fibrosis in young adults.

Dorothy Andersen was a well liked teacher and recognised as a skilful arranger and leader of courses and seminars. She was a leader of several medical societies and received a number of prizes and awards. Still she was one of the most controversial figures at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. Detractors cited her unconventional and somewhat disorganized style, condemning her interest in athletics and carpentry as "unladylike". She was staunchly defended, however, by her many supporters, who admired Andersen's great generosity with her time and talent as well as her contributions to medicine.

In her private life she was somewhat withdrawn, but generous and loyal to friends and colleagues. She enjoyed staying at her week end hut in the Kittatinny Mountains in the northern part of New Jersey, often with friends and colleagues. Unfortunately she was a heavy smoker and died in 1963 of cancer in the lungs, at the age of 62. She was posthumously awarded the distinguished service medal of the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center.

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