Encyclopedia Of Detroit

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Van Hoosen, Bertha

Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen was a pioneer for women in medical occupations and the inventor of “Twilight Sleep” anesthetics. Born in 1863 in Stony Brook, Michigan (present day Rochester Hills), Van Hoosen attended Rochester Academy, Pontiac High School, and the University of Michigan, graduating in 1884 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. As she began to develop a passion for studying medicine, her parents ceased their support, as the medical field was almost exclusively male at the time. Determined to proceed with her career plans, Van Hoosen used the money she had earned from teaching calisthenics and physiology to pay for medical school. In 1888, she earned her M.D., graduating from the University of Michigan’s Medical School.

Following her graduation, Dr. Van Hoosen began a very successful medical career, holding residencies at the Woman’s Hospital in Detroit, the Michigan Asylum for the Insane in Kalamazoo, and the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1892, she opened her own private practice in Chicago, and taught at Northwestern University Woman’s Medical School without pay. She later studied surgery under Byron Robinson, and eventually headed the obstetrical department of the Chicago Hospital for Women and Children from 1896 to 1899. Dr. Van Hoosen then joined the surgical staff of Provident Hospital, and briefly headed the gynecology department at Northwestern University Woman’s Medical School in 1901, for nine months prior to the school’s closure. She later became the first female faculty member of the University of Illinois College of Medicine, despite substantial opposition from the male faculty. In 1913, Dr. Van Hoosen earned the highest score on the Civil Service Board examinations for gynecological staff at Cook County Hospital, and she was subsequently appointed to the head of the obstetrics department at Loyola University of Chicago’s medical school in 1918.

Dr. Van Hoosen was responsible for several medical innovations throughout her career, including the introduction of buttonhole surgical stitching, and the first usage of scopolamine-morphine (or “Twilight Sleep”) as an anesthetic during surgery. She also contributed to the newfound emphasis on hygiene and sterilization during operations. Although her contemporaries mocked her by calling her “the Petticoat Surgeon,” Dr. Van Hoosen is recognized today for helping to pave the way for women in the medical field, as well as for the prominent innovations she brought to the field. She was also involved in several medical organizations throughout her career, co-founding the Medical Women’s National Association in 1915, and being the only woman of her time, other than Madame Marie Curie, to be elected as an honorary member of the International Association of Medical Women. Van Hoosen suffered a stroke in October of 1951 and died at a convalescent home in Romeo, Michigan in 1952. Today, the farm where she was raised in present-day Rochester Hills is preserved as a museum.