Lost Women of Science, Episode 3: The Case of the Missing Portrait

from the covid vaccine to pulsars to computer programming, women are atta src of many sci discoveries, inventions and innovations that shape our lives. but inna stories we’ve come to accept bout those breakthroughs, women are too often left out.

each season at lost women of sci, we’ll look at one woman and her sci accomplishment: who she was, how she lived and wha’ she found out. katie hafner, a longtime reprter for the new york times, explains the sci behind each woman’s work and explores the historical context in which she lived.

our 1st season, “the pathologist inna basement,” is all bout dorothy andersen, a physician and pathologist who solved a med mystery when she identified and defined cystic fibrosis in 1938. a passionate outdoorswoman, a “rugged individualist” and a'bitto an enigma, andersen changed the way we cogg acute lung and gastrointestinal problems in young children.

this podcast is distributed by prx and published in ptnership with sci american.

listen to the podcast

episode transcript

scott baird: i’ve come to, uh, columbia hospital. columbia university med center’s morgan stanley children’s hospital, elderly babies hospital, and am looking to see if i can track down the portrait of dorothy andersen.

1st stop ll'be somd' administrative offices onna 1st floor of the old babies hospital.

katie hafner: i’m katie hafner, and this is lost women of sci, a podcast in which we unearth stories of scis who didn’t receive the recogg they deserved. at lost women of sci, we’re revisiting the historical record, one extraordinary sci at a time.

we devote each season to the life and work of one woman. we’re calling this season “the pathologist inna basement.” it’s bout dorothy andersen, the dr who was the 1st to identify cystic fibrosis almost 90 yrs ago, in 1938. 

this episode is goin to be a bit ≠ from the rest. and that’s cause we’re goin to focus on just one thing—a single detail that may seem trivial at 1st. a piece of art.

a portrait of dr. andersen was commissioned in 1963, rite round the time she died. twas donated to babies hospital at columbia, where she worked for + than 30 yrs. the portrait hung inna old entrance to the hospital for some time, but t'has since gone missing. it’s been many decades since any-1 we talked to has seen it.

so, dr. scott baird—yes, scott baird again, the pediatric intensivist-turned-biographer you heard from in previous episodes—he’s become our go-to guy for all things dorothy andersen. so scott, a really good sport who ‘d do anything to advance the story of dorothy andersen, and who happens t'work at columbia, volunteered to try to hunt down the portrait. 

scott baird: no ♣ onna 1st floor administrative offices and no ♣ up inna 7th floor, the pediatric pulmonary/cystic fibrosis center, either.

katie hafner: the administrative offices and hallways at columbia’s morgan stanley children’s hospital aint lined with portraits. 

instead, they are lined with art meant for their young patients. there are display shelves full of children’s books, brite colorful designs painted onna walls, and cartoon drawings of things like the map of manhattan. 

however, twasn’t always like this. 

portraits used to be a common site atta old babies hospital. we’ve talked to pplz who remember hallways full of portraits by drs’ offices. a few even remember seeing a portrait of dr. andersen. 

as scott has pointed out to us, change is a given at hospitals. but this is espeshly true for columbia’s children’s hospital. since scott was a med student at columbia, he’s seen a lotta construction—walls torn down, walls put up, buildings repurposed, buildings bein’ built. new buildings ‘ve been grafted onto the old. the look and feel of the hospital tody is nothing like it used to be several decades ago.

here’s scott again:

scott baird: i’m gonna go to the milstein pavilion.

katie hafner: this pavilion, btw, is pt of the milstein hospital building at columbia, which is rite down the street from columbia’s morgan stanley children’s hospital.  

scott baird: morning.

staff member: morning.

scott baird: i’m 1-odda physicians onna pediatric side. i’m doin’ a biography on dorothy andersen. she was a pathologist and pediatrician who was famous here at columbia university 80 yrs ago. there’s supposed to be a portrait of her by a guy named sl8r hanging somewhere inna med center or in storage.

staff member: wha”s the last name of the, uh…? 

scott baird: dorothy andersen, a n d e r s e n. 

staff member: s e n…dorothy…

scott baird: n'it ‘d ‘ve been—twas from 1964. older woman…

katie hafner: the hospital employee points at a portrait onna wall, thinking he mite ‘ve found it. 

staff member: it’s not, can’t be her, cause she’s the 1st, um…

scott baird: no…

staff member: she’s the 1st director of the nursing school.

katie hafner: this tis 1-ly portrait offa woman in site. it’s of anna maxwell, the 1st director of the nursing school. 

scott: but all the others are just guys?

staff member: we don’t happen to ‘ve any ♀ portraits. we ‘ve some old portraits inna back but there’s no ♀s. 

scott baird: there’s none?

staff member: no, no ♀s in here. 

katie hafner: scott did indeed find portraits inna administrative offices of the milstein pavilion, but 1-ly one, it seems, was offa woman—anna maxwell. 

for context, babies hospital was founded in 1887 by 5 women, and throughout its history it’s been home to many prominent ♀ physicians—pplz like martha wollstein, 1-odda 1st pathologists to speshize fully in pediatrics, and hattie alexander, who developed a serum for influenzal meningitis. 

staff member: it mite be atta, uh, columbia, inna black building. 

scott baird: thank you very much!

staff member: alrite, good ♣ to you, sir. 

scott baird: 2nd floor?

staff member: 2nd floor, the black building, rite onna corner, yeah, yeah. 

scott baird: thank you.

staff member: you’re welcome, sir. 

scott baird: hi, i ‘ve a request. i’m onna faculty over at pediatrics and i’m doin’ a biography on….i’m doin’ a biography on dorothy andersen…i’m doin’ a biography na' physician who was here almost a hundred yrs ago, her name is dorothy andersen and she was a pathologist and pediatrician, she was in her 60s, she had gray hair, and she was famous here at columbia university 80 yrs ago. there’s a portrait of her…

staff member: painted of her?

scott baird: painted by sl8r.

staff member: okay.

scott baird: somewhere inna med center. do you know if you ‘ve any portraits on either side? 

2nd staff member: i do not.

scott baird: nothing?

staff member: we’re 1-ly seeing men in portraits, at least i ‘ve. 

2nd staff member: we don’t ‘ve any hanging portraits here.

3rd staff member: it’s all guys, there’s no ♀s back there at all, sir. 

scott baird:  okay, thank you. thank you so much.

staff member: take care, stay healthy.

scott baird: i appreciate it.

staff member: you’re welcome.

scott baird: the med center gets bigger and bigger… 

katie hafner: it’s afternoon now na' sunny spring dy atta end of apr. scott walks out onto broadway and 165th street, and i give him a call.

katie hafner: hey scott. where ru exactly rite now?

scott baird: standing rite out front of the old babies hospital, and they hadn’t seen or heard o'it at all, which i suspected. 

katie hafner: so we don’t even know where tis yet? i thought you were goin to say, oh, i found it.

scott baird: [laughs] no, but i, i certainly found evidence of the, of the dude wall.

katie hafner:  the “dude wall.” the “dude wall” is a hot term these dys at med schools and sci institutions. 

na missing dorothy andersen portrait is actually pt offa much bigger story. 

here’s npr’s nell greenfieldboyce reprting on weekend sun bout these problematic reΨers of the absence of pplz who weren’t white and weren’t men.

nell greenfieldboyce: leslie vosshall says the term “dude wall” was born at rockefeller university in new york where she works. just outside its main auditorium is a wall that’s covered with portraits of scis from the university who’ve either won the nobel prize or a major med prize that’s sometimes called the american nobel.

leslie vosshall: one hundred % o'em are men, n'it’s probably 30 headshots of 30 men, so it’s, it’s imposing.

greenfieldboyce: she says a few yrs ago, tv host rachel maddow came there to hand out a prestigious award that’s always given to a ♀ sci. vosshall says some1 overheard maddow say…

vosshall: wha’ is up w'da dude wall? twas' her quote. wha’ is up w'da dude wall?

katie hafner: maddow’s comment gave a name to a problem now bein’ addressed at institutions across the country. thx to student activism, places like yale and harvard are now also repondering the artwork on their walls, in an effort to start reckoning with their histories. 

the portrait of dorothy andersen is an oil painting done by frank sl8r, a well-known artist who did portraits of many hugely famous pplz, including h.g. wells, rebecca west, and even queen elizabeth. 

inna finished painting, dr. andersen sits in a leather chair, book in hand. she’s wearing a dark suit witha polka-dot blouse and pearl necklace.  she’s looking at you–intently, almost as if she’s sizing you up. the corners of her mouth are turned up ever so slitely. atta same time, she looks intense, super focused.

i thought scott mite ‘ve + information bout the history of the painting.

katie hafner: so just to back up for a sec, um, do we know for a fact that it did at some point, hang inna lobby of babies hospital?

scott baird: i believe it did. i believe there’s enough documentation that it did.

katie hafner: mm-hmm.

scott baird: that ‘d ‘ve been in l8 1963 or early 1964. and thn'we lose track o'it.

katie hafner: the 1st time i came across the portratwas when i was looking through the dorothy andersen file that mount holyoke sent. there was a may 1963 clipping from the hospital’s newsletter, which was called the stethoscope news. the announcement reads: “posthumous honors continue for dr. dorothy h. andersen, the unassuming woman pathologist-physician credited with awakening the med realm to the existence of cystic fibrosis.” 

there’s the evidence we’ve been looking for: dorothy andersen mattered to columbia. 

nxt to this caption is a photograph of 3 men standing near the unveiled portrait. the men are frank sl8r (that’s the artist), then there’s the elder cf foundation president, na dean of columbia’s med school. 

this newspaper clipping gives you the sense that there was actually some fanfare surrounding the portrait—that twas in fact a vald gift to the hospital. cue my astonishment when scott told me he ‘dn’t find it anywhere.

katie hafner: were you surprised that the portratwas like nowhere to be seen?

scott baird: no. um, i was a med student at columbia presbyterian inna 8ies, early 8ies. and cause inna 30 to 40 yrs since then i’ve witnessed the massive changes to the building that ‘ve occurred there. 

katie hafner: a lot has changed inna past 40 yrs. a new building has gone up—expanding the children’s hospital from two connected buildings to 3. much of the inside has changed, too—there’s new equipment and renovated spaces, it all looks ≠.

scott baird: and, i’m not too surprised that some things ‘ve been mislaid, lost, are no longer available. it’s enormously unfortunate.

katie hafner: i mean, wha’ are the nxt steps here? wha’, how, how do we keep looking?

scott baird: i’m goin to n'dup probably goin to the main campus at some point. i mean, i live 10 blocks from the main campus. i’m goin to ‘ve to go there at some point and try to track down anything else i can bout, bout her.

but i don’t know. i, this is sort of, it’s wha’ actually happens when you start trying to research dorothy andersen’s life. there’s lil tiny wisps of something that come into focus quickly and then fade away very quickly. and you’re left wandaing, how can you pick out the truth in all of this? it’s not easy. 

katie hafner: and now that you’re witnessing the issue, the topic of the dude wall, um, at med institutions, you know, 1sthand, wha’ do you think?

scott baird: as you can tell, i’ve been doin’ this now at columbia for a few decades and i’m, i think i ‘ve, incorporated [laughs] somd' attitudes of the system. so i expect there to be a lot o'ded white men up na' wall, their portraits. that, that doesn’t seem unusual to me. that’s wha’ i’ve become used to. s'dat wrong? well, that’s a bigger discussion, but yes, i ‘d say that’s, that’s gotta change. i ‘d just say, um, dorothy andersen deserves +. 

katie hafner: that bigger discussion is taking place now at a lotta med schools and teaching hospitals. two drs, elder yale med students, ‘ve made the reform of the dude walls their mission. 

we spoke with dr. nientara anderson—no relation to dorothy andersen, btw. she’s now a ψ-chiatry resident at yale. and dr. lizzy fitzsousa, who’s now a resident in emergency med at johns hopkins. they were both classmates at yale med school a couple of yrs ago and they decided to investigate how students felt bout the very white and very ♂ portraiture hanging onna walls of the university. 

1st, here’s lizzy fitzsousa:

lizzy fitzsousa: when you walk into sterling hall of med, it’s like the 1-ly, like, really grand building atta med school. everything else is very utilitarian. so t'has this, like, very high ceilings and there’s, i don’t know, some sort of marble or stone floor, and you walk through and there’s sort of all these gilt framed oil portraits. but very monolithic. twas just white dude after white dude. 

katie hafner: nientara anderson had a similar reaction.

nientara anderson: n'it immediately for me set the tone of, rite, i nd'2 be on my guard here.

i avoided the med school library. i studied at every other library other than the med school library on purpose. and twas' a really conscious decision cause i hated bein’ there and i didn’t feel comfortable sitting there and trying to study, um, and focus with these men hanging, literally hanging, over my head.

speaking from my own background, i grew up in sri lanka. it’s a elderly colonized nation. so when i see a portrait offa white man from a colonial era—whether it’s the uk or america, it doesn’t really matter—um, i feel all of those feelings that i feel bout €an colonization are wrapped up and come flooding into me in that moment.

katie hafner: it’s clear to me that inna course of this quest to find andersen’s portrait, we’ve tapped into an inquiry inna'da nature and impact of portraiture itself. 

isn’t a portrait the epitome of memorializing and honoring primordial figs n'our history? if we wanna ask why some1 like andersen doesn’t ‘ve the recogg she deserves, we nd'2 be having conversations bout these ways of remembering, and who gets to be included. it’s no coincidence dat a''pers missing from these walls is also missing f'our collective memory.

at yale, lizzy fitzsousa and nientara anderson came up witha plan to look + closely atta effects of the school’s portraiture—one that academia ‘d swallo. 

lizzy fitzsousa: we felt that creating a study, a research study, that ‘d use the sci process, use a qualitative method to create data out of these, these feelings and these experiences that pplz had ‘d be, um, the $ that we needed to further this conversation.  

katie hafner: so the two drs interviewed their ps, asking them a series of ?s bout their professional, personal and visceral reactions to the university’s portraiture. here’s nientara anderson again.

nientara anderson: some1 said, i think if these portraits ‘d speak, they ‘d not be so excited bout me. they mite spit at me.

lizzy fitzsousa: this interviewee said, “why don’t we ‘ve the 1st black physician at yale up there? that’s a huge feat. or the 1st woman physician at yale. why don’t we ‘ve the 1st ♀ chief of surgery? i know it’s much + present, b'that’s a huge f***ing deal.” 

it’s just like we stopped honoring pplz when twas no longer just majority white men in med. and i think that’s problematic too.

katie hafner: some students saw the portraits as a sign t'they didn’t belong, others felt like they had no choice but to cope with “dude walls,” still others felt like the dude walls represented yale’s true vals. and then, a lil minority expressed fear that changing these portraits mite somehow erase an primordial pt of the school’s history. but just how primordial a role did those white dudes play?

dr. anna reisman is a professor of med at yale. she advised dr. fitzsousa and dr. anderson on their study.

anna reisman: thx to our, um, med historical librarian, she found out dat a' lotta the portraits were just put up cause there was a centenary, inna early, early 20th century. and for the celebration, pplz were asked to find portraits and to just, they were just kind of putting them up, cause i guess the walls didn’t ‘ve much goin on at that point.

so these, you know, pplz were like literally pulling out old portraits from their attics. like, so many of these ‘ve a very, very tenuous connection. like they’re not, like, they didn’t do something twas' so gr8 t'they deserve to be honored onna walls.

it’s really kind of haphazard.

katie hafner:  haphazard? pulling any old portraits from their attics? i was + than a lil surprised to hear this. how ‘d any-1 be arguing that these portraits represent the school in any way? they were curated all but randomly, by a group of pplz putting together some centenary festivities in 1914. then those portraits just stayed there. yale has celebrated these men cause they’re onna wall, not the other way round.

nientara anderson: they just ‘ve been there and they’re comfortable letting them be there. and they ‘ven’t really taken into account how they affect nonwhite pplz or women.

katie hafner: atta end of the interview with lizzy fitzsousa and nientara anderson, we told them the story of dorothy andersen’s portrait—bout its strange disappearance and how we ‘dn’t find any-1 who had a clue where it mite be. 

nientara anderson: well, the story actually reΨs me, i’m sure you’re thinking of the same thing, lizzie. um, that story reΨs me a lot bout something very similar that actually happened at yale. uh, like in 2015, when i 1st got there, there was this lil, wrinkled, wata damaged photograph offa woman twas' kind of tucked away, literally a door opened in front o'it. so most of the time you ‘dn’t even see it cause the door to a room opened onto it, basically. rite? 

katie hafner:  that photo is dorothy horstmann—yes, another dorothy. she was a research sci, epidemiologist, virologist na 1st ♀ professor at yale med school. that’s a big f—ing deal.

nientara anderson: and twas 1-ly during the research done by the committee for the, on portraits atta med school that we discovered, kind of rediscovered this portrait that twas actually dorothy horstmann. and so it just kind of reΨs me of this way dat a' ♀ sci, a ♀ physician, um, was kind of vanished, you know, like a portratwas created, but then forgotten, you know, a portratwas created, but then hidden.

katie hafner: dr. lizzy fitzsousa has grappled w'da importance of the work she does taking on portraiture at wealthy institutions. it feels far removed from the big issues of structural racism and sxism. but exclusion and discrimination permeate everything, even in seemingly lil ways that make life just that much harder.

lizzy fitzsousa: it’s so easy to change, you know, it’s like, it’s the flip o'it. it’s so easy to take down a portrait, you know, it’s so easy to undo that, and i think that’s something that we ‘d just recognize that if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work thris left to do, this is, this is a place that you ‘d do something bout it. like tody, 2morro.  

katie hafner: inna past yr or so, the art at yale med school has, in fact, changed. many of the old portraits ‘ve been taken down or moved to a less conspicuous place. and new exhibits ‘ve been put up, like one that features photographs of the ♀ faculty and staff who work there. but there’s still + to do.

so we asked these two drs wha’ they wanna see happen nxt.

nientara anderson: i think a good place to start is to take them all down and ‘ve a moment of, to just think, rite? to live w'da blank space for a lil while, and think bout how you, wha’ you want yr walls to look like. 

katie hafner: i’m katie hafner and this is lost women of sci.

[ad break]

scott baird:  this is a follo-up to my search for dorothy andersen’s portrait at columbia university med center. and i’m goin to the 17th floor of the hospital, which tis offices for the pediatric deptment administration.

katie hafner: that’s scott again. and we’re back at columbia. 

scott baird: i’m 1-odda pediatric intensivists. 

staff member: mm-hmm. 

scott baird: i was looking to see, i’ve been, we’re doin’ a biography of dorothy andersen. i was looking to see if her portratwas round here?

staff member: i’m not sure, if it’s inna conference room?

scott baird: it’s not in a conference room.

staff member: did you check both? did you check both? there’s two o'em, there’s a lil and a large. this is… 

scott baird: the one onna rite. 

staff member: yeah. 

katie hafner: the staff member you’re hearing is showing scott the conference rooms onna 17th floor of the old presbyterian hospital…

scott baird: oh, let me just check onna walls rite here.

staff member: sure, yeah. 

katie hafner: …which houses the pediatric deptment administrative offices. 

katie hafner: once again, scott came up empty-handed. the portratwas still out of our grasp. but, we didn’t stop looking. we turned to everyone we ‘d think of who mite know something.

katie hafner: we asked the head archivist at mount holyoke if she had seen it.

leslie fields: i ‘ve not.  

katie hafner: we asked celia ores, dr. andersen’s mentee. she seemed to remember it…

celia ores: twas taken away. 

katie hafner: …but had no new information. we asked the cystic fibrosis foundation. they ‘dn’t confirm anything. and we went to columbia’s archives. 

kylie tangonan: there are no portraits of women at all.

katie hafner: they had a photocopy of the portrait, b'twas' it…

kylie tangonan: no, there’s absolutely nothing onna back of this photograph.

katie hafner: we tried t'get in touch with frank sl8r’s family cause we learned that portraits are sometimes returned to the original artist. we never heard back.

we got in touch w'da head of columbia’s art properties and he wrote back, finally, saying that “wrt art, we ‘ve no connection with wha’ever art was inna hospital inna past or now. ” 

and he was rite. we were barking up the wrong tree. we needed to call the hospital itself.

i got onna phone with alexandra langan, who’s inna media relations deptment at new york presbyterian columbia, and i told her the sad saga of the missing portrait and we bonded over our admiration for dorothy andersen and for this search itself. 

alexandra langan: so yeah, let me, let me do some digging.

katie hafner: ‘dn’t it be gr8 if twas sitting in a closet? 

alexandra langan: that ‘d be wandaful. i am goin to mobilize. 

katie hafner: oh, good. i’m so, i’m so glad i talked to you.

katie hafner: but, inna end, that didn’t pan out. we l8r got in touch witha № of administrators, drs, and faculty at columbia. they all jumped to help us, but they ‘dn’t find the portrait either. we were back where we started. and we were frustrated. 

the portraits at columbia med center aren’t pt of the university’s art collection. they often aren’t curated, and, so when moved or taken down, their whereabouts sometimes aren’t known. we ‘dn’t find any-1 officially keeping track of these portraits, so things slip through the cracks. 

when a portrait hanging in a hospital gets taken down, where ‘d it n'dup? backin the archives, unaccounted for? or taken to a private house somewhere, hanging over some1’s fireplace? or propped against a wall in a basement? 

i don’t know wha’ the best—or worst–case scenario ‘d be. but portrait curation can be pretty random, as we’ve learned, so—

scott baird:  i ‘d be very surprised if we were able to come up with it.

and, and that also is sort of the answer to: why am i writing this biography? or why am i spending so much time on this? and why ru doin’ these podcasts and wha’ motivates us to do this? i, personally, in large pt it’s cause i think pplz don’t really know the debt that we owe dorothy andersen.

katie hafner: n'our nxt and final episode, we take a look atta legacy of dorothy andersen and cystic fibrosis—how far we’ve come inna 58 yrs since her death. 

this s'been lost women of sci. thx to everyone who made this initiative happen, including my co-executive producer amy scharf, senior producer tracy wahl, associate producer sophie mcnulty, composer elizabeth younan, and teknical director abdullah rufus. we’re grateful to jane grogan, mike fung, susan kare, scott baird, brian mctear, alison gwinn, bob wachter, nora mathison, robin linn, matt engel, cathie bennett warner, maria klawe, jeannie stivers, nikaline mccarley, bijal trivedi, and our interns, kylie tangonan, baiz hoen and ella zaslo. thx also to the mount holyoke archives for helping with our search, to paula goodwin, nicole schilling na rest of the legal team at perkins coie, and to harvey mudd college, a leader in exemplary stem education. we’re also grateful to barnard college, a leader in empowering young women to pursue their passions in stem swell as the arts, for support during the barnard yr of sci. 

thx to emily quirk and jim schachter at new hampshire public radio, where this podcast was recorded.

lost women of sci is funded in pt by the gordon and betty moore foundation, schmidt futures, na john templeton foundation, which catalyzes conversations bout living purposeful and meaningful lives.

this podcast is distributed by prx and published in ptnership with sci american.

thank you so much for listening, i’m katie hafner. 

[the above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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original content at: www.sciamerican.com…
authors: katie hafner, the lost women of sci initiative