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From the NIH Director: 2021 Women's History Month

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

Dear NIH Family,

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is proud to recognize March as National Women's History Month. To celebrate, the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion's (EDI) Women's History Month theme is “Women Leading the Way.” Women of every description have worked and fought hard for their inclusion and respect. Please join me in in learning about, reflecting on, and celebrating the achievements of women.

From Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to be granted an M.D., to newly minted physicians and scientists, the history of these fields increasingly recognizes the contributions of women. While there is still much work to be done, I am proud to say that NIH has a long history of supporting the pioneering research carried out by women. That history begins with Dr. Ida Bengtson, a bacteriologist who in addition to discovering the 1917 tetanus outbreak in the U.S. championed the hiring of other women at the United States Public Health Service's Hygienic Laboratory, the precursor of NIH. Just before NIH as we know it was formed, Dr. Sarah Branham Matthews joined the Hygienic Laboratory, where she led research into the isolation and treatment of the causative agent of meningitis. Matilda Riley is most remembered for establishing the behavioral research program at the National Institute on Aging. Dedicating her life to increasing diversity within the STEM fields, Dr. Geraldine Woods was the first African American woman appointed to the National Advisory Council for General Medical Sciences; eventually being asked to serve as a consultant for the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. These incredible women represent just a snapshot of the larger community of women who helped pave the way for the women currently advancing our understanding of the “nature and behavior of living systems.” One such woman who has made a major contribution to the development of vaccines to help end the current pandemic is Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett. Dr. Corbett’s work as a virologist with NIAID has helped us understand and treat COVID-19 and represents the newest chapter of women making history in science and medicine.

With this in mind, I am delighted to share EDI’s campaign for this year’s Women’s History Month, which features women who are continuing to lead and helping us combat the coronavirus. We are proud to pay homage to exceptional NIH scientists and administrators, including Colleen McGowan, Dr. Emmie De Wit, Julie Broussard Berko, Dr. Tara Schwetz, Dr. Monica Webb Hooper, Dr. Jessica McCormick-Ell, Renate Myles, and other phenomenal women working at the core of the fight against COVID-19. These women are just a few among many who lead and innovate. Their stories and leadership inspire us all and serve as an example for others with similar career aspirations.

To learn more about these and other remarkable women, please visit EDI’s Women’s History Month campaign website. I particularly hope that every member of the NIH community will take advantage of the one-week screening of Picture a Scientist. This documentary is presented in partnership with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and depicts the women leading the fight to combat gender discrimination in science and how to make science more welcoming for everyone. The documentary will run from March 22-26. No registration will be required, but please keep an eye out for more information on the documentary closer to the screening on the EDI website. I hope the film generates a dialogue on fostering a diverse, inclusive, and understanding environments for women throughout the NIH community.

For more information about Women's History Month and other EDI activities, please contact Joy Postell, Women's Portfolio Strategist, at 301-451-9662 or You can also follow EDI on Twitter and Instagram.

With thanks for all you do every day to support the NIH mission,

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

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