Distinguished Women of Past and Present


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Emily Dunning Barringer

From: United States: Connecticut, New York
Fields: Activism and Social Service, Health and Medicine, Human Rights
Key Words/Phrases: First female ambulance surgeon
The future pioneer ambulance surgeon, Emily Dunning was born on September 27, 1876, in Scarsdale, New York, U.S.A. Influenced by a speech by Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi, Dunning decided to study medicine. She attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and, in 1901, earned a medical degree from the Cornell University Medical School in New York City. She graduated second in her class.

Upon graduation she applied for a position at the Gouverneur Hospital in New York and took a qualifying examination. Despite receiving the second-highest grade on the exam, the position was denied her because she was a woman. She then joined Dr. Putnam Jacobi as her assistant. Later, Dr. Dunning re-applied to the hospital and, this time, she was accepted, although the (male) medical interns in the city had petitioned against this appointment. From 1903 to 1905 she worked as an ambulance surgeon. In June 1903, when she went on her first emergency call in an ambulance, some doctors at the hospital cheered her on but many were hostile toward her. In 1905 she joined the hospital staff as a surgeon and was the first woman in a New York City hospital to occupy this position.

Following marriage to Dr. Benjamin Barringer, she retired temporarily from medical practice but later returned to it and even did some clinical work in Vienna, Austria. In 1943, she was chairman of a special commission of the American Medical Women's Association. The group lobbied successfully to allow women doctors to receive commissions in the U.S. Army and Navy. Her autobiography, Bowery to Bellevue: The Story of New York's First Woman Ambulance Surgeon was the basis for the 1952 film The Girl in White, starring June Allyson.

Dr. Emily Dunning Barringer died on April 8, 1961 in New Milford, Connecticut.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1999.

1. The Book of Women's Firsts: Breakthrough Achievements of Almost 1,000 American Women by Phyllis J. Read and Bernard L. Witlieb, Random House, 1992
2. Larousse Dictionary of Women, edited by Melanie Parry, Larousse, 1996


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