Taussig College

Photograph of Helen Taussig

Welcome to the Helen B. Taussig College!
Learn about the faculty leaders in Taussig College by reading their faculty biographies.

About The Namesake

Dr. Helen Brook Taussig was a renowned healer, leader, and teacher. She was born in 1898 with dyslexia. Despite this, she learned to excel in school, and moved to California to earn her bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley.

While committed to pursuing a medical career, Dr. Taussig nevertheless encountered daunting obstacles. After college, she enrolled in Harvard’s School of Public Health, but as a woman, was not allowed to earn a degree there. She was allowed to study histology on a noncredit basis at the all-male medical school, where she sat in a remote corner of the lecture hall and was forbidden to even speak to her male colleagues. She then applied to Johns Hopkins - one of the few medical schools at the time that DID accept women – and she matriculated here in 1923.

When Dr. Taussig graduated from Hopkins, she was chosen as the head of the newly formed Pediatric Cardiology Clinic. Here, she helped develop a surgery to cure a congenital heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot, better known as the “blue baby” syndrome. This operation has saved thousands of young lives.

At the same time, Dr. Taussig began losing her hearing, and relied on lip-reading and hearing aids for the rest of her career. She learned to compensate for this loss by using her hands to feel her patients’ heartbeats.

Equally important was Dr. Taussig’s work in preventing birth defects. In the early 1960s, there was an outbreak of babies born with deformed arms and legs. Dr. Taussig and her colleagues concluded that a sleeping pill known as Thalidomide was behind the devastating birth defects. Dr. Taussig testified before Congress, sent official reports to the Food and Drug Administration, and wrote multiple scientific articles that all led to a ban on the use of Thalidomide in pregnant women.

Dr. Taussig passed away in 1986, at the age of 87. Her legacy as a founder of pediatric cardiology, the first woman to become a full professor at Hopkins, and the first woman president of the American Heart Association serves as an inspiration to us all.

Her personal struggle with dyslexia, hearing loss, and practicing in a field dominated by men, reminds us that we can exceed the expectations of those around us.

Her discovery of a new surgical method and her advocacy work, motivates us to keep searching for ways to improve the lives of our patients.

Her love of teaching reminds us of our responsibility to mentor those who come after us – and to thank our own teachers for sharing their wisdom with us.