Categories: Great Depression and World War II, Health and Medicine, New Canaan, Social Movements, Women, Work, World War I

New Canaan’s Pioneering Female Physician

The Girl in White, movie advertisement starring June Allyson as Emily Dunning Barringer
The Girl in White, movie advertisement starring June Allyson as Emily Dunning Barringer

Long-time New Canaan resident Dr. Emily Dunning Barringer was the first female ambulance surgeon in New York City and the first female physician to work as an intern in a New York City hospital. Her 50-year career in medicine included serving as a surgeon at the New York Infirmary for Women and Children and as Director of Gynecology at Kingston Avenue Hospital. As a prominent reformist in the first half of the 20th century, she lobbied for legislation to control the spread of venereal disease, authored numerous articles on gynecology, and served as Chairman of the Special Committee of the American Medical Women’s Association. Her achievements even captured the attention of Hollywood filmmakers, who adapted her 1950 autobiography into a major motion picture.

Early Life and Career

Born in Scarsdale, New York, in 1876, Emily Dunning grew up in a family of modest means. Concerned for the financial future of their children, the Dunnings encouraged their kids to pursue college degrees. Emily graduated with a BS from Cornell University in 1896 and in 1901 graduated from Cornell University School of Medicine. That same year, after winning first place in internship competitions at both Mount Sinai and Gouverneur Hospital in New York City, Dunning found herself excluded from both positions because of her gender.

Emily Dunning Barringer at her 1901 graduation

Emily Dunning Barringer at her 1901 graduation

Undaunted, Barringer reapplied the following year—this time with support from reform mayor Seth Low and numerous religious and community leaders—and received an assignment at Gouverneur Hospital, making her both the first female physician to receive post-graduate surgical training in New York and the first female ambulance surgeon in the city’s history. Despite resentment and hostile treatment from her male counterparts, Barringer became a regular part of the Gouverneur staff in 1915.

Later Life and Living in Connecticut

With the First World War under way, Barringer worked with numerous organizations that supplied medical care throughout Europe and led a campaign promoting the service of female physicians in the military—a campaign that earned her a decoration from the King of Serbia. It was also during the war years that Barringer and her husband, now the parents of three children, purchased land for a summer home in New Canaan.

By the end of the Second World War, the Barringers were full-time residents of New Canaan. Barringer wrote her autobiography, Bowery to Bellevue: The Story of New York’s First Woman Ambulance Surgeon, as a New Canaan resident in 1950. Two years later, the book became the inspiration for the film The Girl in White, starring June Allyson as Emily Dunning Barringer.
Barringer’s retirement from medicine after five decades of dedicated service allowed her more time with her family. She spent her remaining years in Connecticut until passing away in New Milford on April 8, 1961. In 2000, she posthumously received induction into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.

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Websites

“Emily Dunning Barringer.” Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame, 2017. Link.

Books

Barringer, Emily Dunning. Bowery to Bellevue: The Story of New York’s First Woman Ambulance Surgeon. New York, NY: Norton, 1950.
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