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Catharine Macfarlane

Dr. Catharine Macfarlane, the first physician in the Philadelphia area to use radium in the treatment of cancer, dedicated her life to reducing human suffering and advancing medical knowledge.

A skillful surgeon and tremendous teacher, Macfarlane was a research professor and a professor of gynecology at the Woman’s Medical College. She was the founding member of the American Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the first woman president of the Obstetrical Society of Philadelphia.

Just five years after it was discovered by Marie Curie, Macfarlane began to use radium to treat cancer cases and in 1938, the American Medical Association’s Committee on Clinical Research gave Macfarlane a grant to establish a cancer-prevention research clinic, the first such clinic in Pennsylvania.

She was admitted to the College of Surgeons in 1913 and became the first woman member of the Philadelphia College of Physicians in 1932. Macfarlane also served as president of the American Medical Women’s Association, vice president of the Medical Women’s International Association and chair of the Commission on Cancer of the Medical Society of Pennsylvania. In recognition of her work, the American Cancer Society voted her the first life-long membership in the history of the society. Macfarlane’s other honors include the Gimbel and Silberman awards for work in cancer prevention.

Macfarlane continued practicing medicine until she died in 1969 at the age of 92.