A Woman Wanders Through Life and Science
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Irena Koprowska's autobiography illuminates the struggles of a young immigrant woman to combine family responsibilities and a demanding medical career.
Irena Koprowska's autobiography chronicles the life and struggles of an immigrant woman who successfully pursued a career while raising a family. In the process, she became an award-winning physician, professor, and research pioneer at a time in history when it was believed a woman's place was in the home.
Born in Warsaw in 1917, Irena Koprowska was married, pregnant, and a physician by the age of twenty-two. Forced to flee the Nazis, first in Poland and then in France, she fled to Brazil in 1940. Four years later she immigrated to the United States.
Unable to speak English, she started her academic career as a volunteer at the Department of Pathology at Cornell University Medical College. During the years of her subsequent Research Fellowships at Cornell University Medical College, she worked with George N. Papanicolaou, inventor of the Pap smear. The two co-authored a case report of the earliest diagnosis of lung cancer by a sputum smear.
Eight years later, she was appointed Assistant Professor of Pathology at State University of New York Downstate Medical College and went on to become the first woman physician to become a full professor at Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital (now known as Hahnemann University) in Philadelphia. Later she joined the faculty of Temple University Medical School where, upon her retirement in 1987, she became Professor Emerita. She was recognized as "Woman Physician of the Year" by a Gold Medicus award of the Polish American Society in 1977 and received the Papanicolaou Award of the American Society of Cytology in 1985.
"The question of the career and role of women in professions remains in the center of Koprowska's attention. The intellectual challenge, however, was not the most difficult one. Koprowska admits that the hardest barriers were those connected to her gender. Having a career as well as family and children, she did not have many role models to follow. Her story includes instances of lack of sensitivity, understanding, and even discrimination toward her as a woman scientist, but also examples of breaking through barriers and establishing work relationships in the field traditionally dominated by male professionals.
"Koprowska's autobiography is, from the historical point of view, an interesting contribution to our knowledge about the American society. The author was both a witness and a participant of significant historical events and processes which she describes through the eyes of a woman, a professional, and an immigrant. [Hers] is a positive and successful experience presented to the reader in an open, honest, and highly readable form." — Ann D. Jaroszynska-Kirchmann, from the Introduction
"The book is significant because it describes the effects of gender on migration and resettlement and it opens up to the public a woman's mind—a very smart woman's mind. In an age when a lot of autobiographies and biographies on women seem to be about movie stars it is refreshing to get to know the mind of a talented woman scientist." — Mary Erdmans, University of North Carolina, Greensboro