Sanford School of Medicine School of Medicine

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Female Pioneers


Earliest Female Graduates Recall Their Journeys

By Pat Mack

Some of the first women to graduate from USD's medical school say they faced a few challenges as a distinct minority, but overall, their experiences in medicine were overwhelmingly positive.

Marian Auld '47 M.D., said she was treated as an equal in medical school by the men in her classrooms as well as men on the softball team, where she was the only female. "I had a wonderful experience," Auld said. "I was well-accepted by all of the men. It was really, really good."

Added Margene Tichane '50 M.D., "I didn't run into any discrimination that I was aware of. I look back on it as a wonderful basic science education."

Catherine H. Steele '48 M.D., said the dean of the school at the time - Donald Slaughter, M.D. - was very helpful to all students. "If you had any problems, he was there to help us," Steele said. "You could approach him with anything you wanted. And he knew you by name."

Steele said she only occasionally faced obstacles. "Some professors were against women in medicine. Let's face it," she said. "But most of them were not."One professor went as far as to withhold a test, telling Steele she had flunked. But another professor looked at the test and reported back that she had passed. "There were one or two who were out to get us but they managed not to," Steele said with a laugh.

Steele did end up the victim of one prank. Every day, the class would gather at the student union for a coffee break. They'd flip a coin to see who would buy some ice cream to cool the coffee. "I always ended up buying the ice cream," Steele said. One of the male students in the class finally told her the flip was rigged against her. But the prank had a happy ending. The student who broke the news to her was her future husband, Charles Steele, M.D.

"We were married for more than 60 years before he died," Steele said.

Early Goal

All three women knew at very early ages that they wanted to become physicians. Auld's father, Clarence Auld, M.D., was a country doctor. "I used to go out on house calls with him and help him. Being a doctor was just one of those things I wanted to do. I wanted to give the orders and not take the orders."

She said her father was proud that she wanted to follow in his footsteps, while her mother accepted it. "She knew when I made up my mind I was going to do it," Auld said.

Auld said she did doubt herself at one point early on during her medical school education. "I just didn't think I could do it," Auld said, not because she was a woman, but because the material was so difficult. "It was a lot harder than other graduate schools, a lot more demanding. I was not sure if it was for me or not. But then I decided I could do it."

After her residency at Texas Children's Hospital in Dallas, Auld established her pediatrics practice in Yankton. She did meet some initial resistance from some patients who were Mennonites. "They weren't used to women giving orders," she said. "They'd check with one of the male doctors to see if I was doing all right," Auld said. "But I convinced them, and they became very good friends of mine."

Auld retired in 1989 after practicing for more than two decades in Yankton.

Mom Knows Best

Steele said she knew she wanted to be a doctor since early grade school. "From the day I ever thought of doing anything, I wanted to be a doctor," she said. "I remember asking my mom, 'Why are girls always nurses and boys always doctors?' And my mom said, 'It doesn't have to be that way. You can be what you want.'"

Steele's father was a doctor and two of her brothers became physicians as well. Her uncle also was a physician, as well as five of his sons.

Steele's health challenges were harder to overcome than the fact that she was a female in medicine. She had lung problems in medical school in Alabama. That cleared up, but later, she developed ovarian issues when she was  a resident in Detroit. She was told she would never have children, but she went on to have four sons. One of her sons, David, is a doctor in Hot Springs, S.D.

Steele said she encountered some doctors during her residency who did not think women should be physicians. "You get so you can smile at them and make a crack back at them," she said. "I don't think it made that much difference."

She and her husband moved from Detroit to Great Falls, Mont., preferring to raise their children in a smaller city. "We liked the country," Steele said.

One male doctor there continually expressed his belief that women should not practice medicine, at least until "his daughter became an M.D.," Steele said.

In Great Falls, Steele was a dermatologist while her husband was an ENT. They both took courses and became allergists as well since there weren't any in the community when they arrived. "I really enjoyed medical school and practice," Steele said."They were very rewarding, and they were a pleasure."

Role Model

Tichane did not have a close relative who was doctor. But her family doctor might have been the impetus behind her becoming a physician. "I always wanted to be a doctor since I was four or five years old," Tichane said. "We had a family doctor in town who used to make house calls and I think - I don't  know this - but I think I saw how caring he was and how he always made people feel better."

Tichane grew up on a farm in northern Louisiana and liked to care for sick animals. In fact, at a young age, she and her brother once operated on a chicken. The chicken's craw was filled with too much food. "We cleaned out the craw, sewed it back up and the chicken lived," Tichane said.

Tichane was a family medicine doctor in Corning, N.Y. "I was in solo practice for 40 years," she said. She still fills in on occasion for other physicians. Interestingly, she has encountered only women who do not want her as their fill-in physician. She's never had a man request another doctor.At her solo practice, 60 percent of her patients were women. "I would see 40 patients a day," she said.

Tichane said that her husband, Robert, was wonderful in doing more than his share to raise their three children and keep their house so she could pursue her career. "You have to marry the right person," she said.

Tichane said a doctor's commitment extends beyond seeing patients. "You keep studying all of your life," she said. "Even now, I read a couple of hours each day. You have to do that. But it's a way of life. It comes with the territory."She adds, "I loved my work. It was a very good experience. I never regretted going to work one day."  ?