Aug 19, 2011

Isabella C. Herb, 1869-1943

CAMA Historical Figures/Facilities Project

Anesthesiologist and instructor Isabella C. Herb was born in Clyman, Wisc., on 5 November 1869. She married Charles Albert Herb but after only a few years of marriage, he was killed in an accident in 1888. Herb obtained her medical degree from Woman’s Medical College of Northwestern University in 1892. She completed a year internship at the Mary Thompson Hospital for Women and Children in Chicago and was Assistant to the Medical Staff until 1894, as well as working as their Dispensary Physician and Superintendent. In 1897, she practiced as an anesthetist and pathologist in Augustana Hospital in Chicago. There she worked with Lawrence Prince, M.D., the major developer of open drop ether and chloroform anesthesia. 

 The story continues after the jump...

Caption: "Isabella Herb, M.D., chief anesthetist at Presbyterian Hospital, demonstrates ethylene-oxygen equipment to (center and right) Jay Bailey Carter, M.D. and Arno B. Luckhardt, M.D. Dr. Luckhardt discovered the anesthetic property of ethylene gas with the assistance of Dr. Carter, who had volunteered to be the first human subject for his experiments. An actual patient would be lying down when the anesthesia is administered." Image Call Number: P5236. From the Rush University Medical Center Archives.

In November 1899, she left Chicago to become a member of the staff at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., serving as the first female physician anesthetist for Charles Mayo, M.D., as well as the clinic pathologist. She left the Mayo Clinic in 1905 for Rush Medical College in Chicago as a Fellow in Pathology, working with microbiologist Ludvig Hektoen, M.D. In 1909, Arthur Dean Bevan, M.D., the head of surgery at Presbyterian Hospital and Rush Medical College, offered her the position as head of the department of anesthesia at Presbyterian Hospital, as the first woman on staff.  Herb also became the first woman president of the American Association of Anesthetists as well as serving actively in many other professional societies.

Caption: "Dr. Herb as part of the Rush faculty. Rush Medical College class composite, 1914." 
From the Rush University Medical Center Archives

Throughout her career she helped develop safer and more effective anesthesia methods including a new type of anesthetic screen to administer ethylene gas. She was the first to administer ethylene-oxygen clinically as an anesthesia during a surgery performed by Bevan, 1923. As a Professor of Surgery (Anesthesia) at Rush Medical College, she was also a leader in the field of medical education and advocated the need for a stronger anesthesia education program. Her research contributions and publications in the fields of pathology and anesthesia establish her as a pioneer and innovator. Herb retired in 1941 and died in 1943 of heart disease.

Biography provided by Rush University Medical Center Archives.
The following two repositories have material related to Isabella Herb:

Rush University Medical Center Archives
Collection name: Isabella C. Herb Papers (1898-1933)

Repository:  Rush University Medical Center Archives
Creator:  Herb, Isabella C., 1869-1943
Call Number: 1576x
Extent:  About 50 items, 0.1 linear feet.
Collection Overview: The papers of Isabella C. Herb hold biographical material, writings and research notes. Biographical material contains items related to Herb, such as obituaries and clippings about Herb. Most of the collection consists of Herb’s published writings in the fields of pathology and anesthesia, 1898-1933. Also included are handwritten research notes concerning operations performed under ethylene.

Rush InPerson blog post on Isabella Herb, M.D,:
"Isabella Herb, First Woman on the Medical Staff"

Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology

Contact the archivist for more information.

The Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology holds a Herb-Mueller ether vapor and vacuum apparatus, a machine Isabella Herb designed. This item is available in an online exhibit:

Accession Number: 2004-01-26-1 A
Title: Ether vapor-vacuum apparatus / [designed by Isabella Herb].
Alternate title: Herb-Mueller ether vapor and vacuum apparatus.
Author: Herb, Isabella C. (Coler), 1863?-1943.
Corporate Author: V. Mueller & Co.
Please see catalog record for more information.

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