Emily Dunning Barringer

Emily Dunning Barringer
"He [her physician husband] could count on a splendid training in one of the big general hospitals…with post-graduate work abroad, in whatever line he elected...And I? What did I see ahead?"
- Emily Dunning Barringer

Induction Category:
Science & Health

Born: 1876

Died: 1961

Inducted: 2000

Town: New Canaan

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 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.

During This Time
1921 - 1945: Prosperity, Depression, & War