Sabin College

Photograph of Florence Sabin

Welcome to the Florence R. Sabin College!
Learn about the faculty leaders in Sabin College by reading their faculty biographies.

About The Namesake

Dr. Florence Rena Sabin was born in a small mining town in Colorado in the late 19th century, but because her mother died from puerperal fever when she was just 7, her extended family helped raise her in Denver, Chicago, and finally Vermont. She attended Vermont Academy and was encouraged to go to college. Although she initially desired to become a pianist, she redirected her interests elsewhere after a classmate candidly told her that her musical talent was “merely average.”

Fortunately, for the future of medicine, Sabin redirected her interests towards the sciences. She earned a B.S. in Zoology from Smith College, and set her sights on becoming a physician. A mentor informed her that the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine would begin accepting women, so she submitted an application and matriculated in the fall of 1896.

Despite opening its doors to female medical students, Hopkins, like other institutions in that era, maintained an all-male faculty and reserved its limited number of clinical internships for men. But Sabin’s love for the sciences, and her talent in the classroom and laboratory would transcend tradition. Her hard work and intelligence prompted Dr. Franklin Mall, chair of the Department of Anatomy, to take her under his wing.

The two worked closely together for many years, during which time she made important discoveries in the neural anatomy of infants, and on the origins of lymphatic vessels. Her multiple publications and growing reputation in the scientific community forced Hopkins trustees to reconsider their policies, and in 1902, she became an assistant instructor - the first woman to hold a faculty position at this school. Only 3 years later, she earned a post as an associate professor in the Department of Anatomy.

In the ensuing 25 years as a faculty member, she taught anatomy, embryology, and histology to medical and nursing students. Her reputation as a consummate clinician and scientist soon achieved legendary status because of her warmth and willingness to work side by side with her students, and there were few among them who did not eventually become her friend.

Following her 30 years at Johns Hopkins, she accepted an opportunity at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, where she worked for 13 more years and made major contributions to the understanding of the immunology and pathology of tuberculosis. After retiring and moving back to Colorado, she remained active in scientific and medical circles, and helped shape public health policy in her home state until she passed away in 1953.

Florence Sabin was many things: a brilliant scientist, a trailblazer and role model for women in the medical profession and a steadfast believer in equal opportunities for women, a teacher, a colleague, and a friend. Her students and colleagues praised her professionalism, generosity, and unrelenting thirst for scientific investigation.