Florence Rena Sabin

Florence Sabin
Florence Sabin

Notable Facts

First woman to gain full professorship at Johns Hopkins University (1917), the first woman to be president of the American Association of Anatomists (1924), and the first woman chosen as a lifetime member of the National Academy of Science (1925). Received numerous awards for her achievements and breakthroughs in science and published over 100 scientific papers, several book chapters, and two books.

Personal Information

Date of Birth


Date of Death


Primary Residence

Saxtons River



Historical Significance

Florence Sabin was a medical researcher who achieved many firsts for women. She was the first woman to gain full professorship at Johns Hopkins University (1917), the first woman to be president of the American Association of Anatomists (1924), and the first woman chosen as a lifetime member of the National Academy of Science (1925).

Florence Sabin was born in Central City, Colorado, to George K. Sabin, a mining engineer, and Serena Miner Sabin, a school teacher. Both of her parents died during her childhood, so she moved to her grandparents' farm in Saxtons River, Vermont. She attended Vermont Academy and went on to Smith College in 1889, where she majored in zoology. She entered Johns Hopkins University Medical School in 1896 after being encouraged to do so by the college physician. After graduating from the University, Sabin obtained an internship at the hospital and, soon after, completed a fellowship in the Department of Anatomy. In 1901, she published "An Atlas of the Medulla and Midbrain". By 1917, Sabin had become a professor of Histology at John Hopkins and, through her disciplined research, made significant contributions to the histology of the brain and the development of lymphatic systems, as well as to the knowledge of pathology and immunology of tuberculosis. In 1924, she became the first woman president of the American Association of Anatomists and in 1925 became the first woman elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences. That same year, she accepted an invitation from Simon Flexner, director of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, to become Head of the Department of Cellular Studies. This made her the first woman to be a full member of the Institute. She spent 13 years researching at the Institute and, between the years of 1930 and 1934, completed a biography on her mentor, Franklin P. Mall.

Sabin returned to Colorado in 1938 and became an active voice in public health issues, playing a key role in developing legislation for Colorado's public health program following World War II. She became chair of the Health Committee of Colorado's Post-War Planning Committee which investigated health services in the state, drafted a series of health bills, and then campaigned for their passage. Following this, Sabin served as chair of an Interim Board of Health and Hospitals of Denver, and then as Manager of the Denver Department of Health and Charities until 1951. She worked tirelessly to improved Denver's sanitation, enforce health regulations in the food industry, and scan the population for tuberculosis and syphilis. Largely due to her efforts, within two years, Denver's tuberculosis incidence was reduced from 54.7 to 27 per 100,000, and the syphilis frequency from 700 to 60 per 100,000.

Sabin received numerous awards for her achievements throughout her lifetime. In 1929, the popular magazine "Pictorial Review" gave her its Annual Achievement Award, and a Good Housekeeping poll in 1931 chose her as one of America's top twelve most eminent women. Upon receiving the Achievement Award in 1929, Sabin was quoted as saying, "I hope my studies may be an encouragement to other women, especially to young women, to devote their lives to the larger interests of the mind. It matters little whether men or women have the more brains; all we women need to do to exert our proper influence is just to use all the brains we have." In 1932, she received Chi Omega sorority's National Achievement Award, Bryn Mawr College's M. Carey Thomas Prize in 1935, and fifteen honorary doctorates. She received the Trudeau Medal of the National Tuberculosis Association in 1945, and in 1951, received the Lasker Foundation's Public Service Award for her public health work in Colorado. Nineteen fifty-one was also the year that the Medical School of the University of Colorado dedicated a new biological sciences building in her honor, and in 1959 the state of Colorado honored her with a statue of her likeness.

Organizations or Movements

  • Association of Anatomists
  • National Academy of Science


  • Professor
  • Researcher of Science
  • Legislator of Public Health
  • Author


  • BS in Zoology, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts (1893)
  • MD from Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland (1900)

Additional Information (Bibliography)

  • "Florence Sabin," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2008. Link

  • The National Academies Biographies Link

  • Profiles in Science Link

  • National Women's Hall of Fame Link

  • Changing the Face of Medicine Link

Additional Images

Florence Sabin
Florence Sabin
Florence Sabin
Florence Sabin