Ramey, Estelle R.
Estelle R. Ramey
Born Stella Rosemary Rubin, August 23, 1917, in Detroit, MI; died of complications from Alzheimer's disease, September 8, 2006, in Bethesda, MD. Endocrinologist. Estelle R. Ramey, an endocrinologist, was best known for her public challenges to society's myths about the physiological—especially hormonal—differences between the genders as they relate to political and social roles. In 1970, she came to national prominence for stating that there was no hormonal reason for women not to hold executive positions, including the presidency, which led to her nicknames "Mort Sahl of the women's movement" and "George Burns with an X chromosome." Endlessly quotable, Ramey was a popular feminist speaker on related topics and drew on her own background as a respected female scientist to support her views.
Born in 1917 in Detroit, Michigan, Ramey was the daughter of Jewish immigrants. Her father was a gambler while her mother, a native of France, was illiterate. The family, which included two siblings, moved to Brooklyn when she was infant. Ramey's father died when she was an adolescent, but her mother emphasized the importance of education and her daughter's ability to do anything despite their impoverished existence.
Ramey was a gifted student who was able to skip more than one grade. After graduating from high school at the age of 15, she entered Brooklyn College. Graduating in 1937 with bachelor's degrees in mathematics and biology, Ramey was hired as a chemistry teacher at Queens College while she earned her master's degree in chemistry at Columbia University. She completed the degree in 1940.
After marrying James Ramey and moving with him to Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1941 so he could work for the Tennessee Valley Authority, Ramey experienced discrimination. She applied for a position teaching chemistry at the University of Tennessee, but was turned down because its chairman believed she should be taking care of her husband at home. When World War II started and the military draft decreased the school's faculty, the then-pregnant Ramey was offered a position but only at 33 percent of the pay of the man she replaced. Despite the pay, she took the job.
When World War II ended, the Rameys briefly moved to Washington, D.C., before her husband's new position at the Atomic Energy Commission required a move to Chicago. There, Ramey earned her doctorate in 1950 from the University of Chicago. Her thesis focused on how stress responses are related to the nervous system. After completing her Ph.D., Ramey spent around six years teaching at the University of Chicago's medical school.
In 1956, the Rameys moved back to Washington, D.C., where her husband had a new job. Ramey took a position at the Georgetown University School of Medicine where she spent the rest of her career. There, she taught physiology and biophysics, while she continued conducting research in endocrinology. Her research continued the work she began on her thesis: looking at how stress hormones affected both men and women. She was also an expert in other bodily hormones.
Over the years, Ramey expressed frustration that the male-dominated scientific establishment would not look at the similarities and differences in how the sexes were affected by stress hormones and related phenomenon. She believed that such studies could help both genders live better, longer lives, in part because, on average, women have a lifespan that is seven to nine years longer than men. Ramey's own work also found that the female of all species are tougher overall than the male counterparts, even in terms of stamina.
In 1970, Ramey took a very public stand on the matter when an official of the Democratic National Committee, retired surgeon Dr. Edgar F. Berman, stated that hormone fluxes brought on by menstrual cycles and menopause made women unsuitable for higher office. She responded to this slight in a letter published in the Washington Evening Star. Ramey pointed out that President John F. Kennedy suffered from Addison's disease, a hormonal imbalance disorder requiring medication that could cause mood swings, and he handled both the presidency and the Cuban missile crisis with this condition. Ramey also noted that her studies found that women handled stress better than men in physiological terms.
Building on this moment, Ramey launched a career as an educating yet witty public speaker. She first debated Berman at the National Women's Press Club, and was declared the winner by the Washington Post. Berman was soon forced to resign from the Democratic National Committee. Ramey continued to speak all over the United States on women's issues. She was also author of numerous articles for publications, including Ms., as well as two books.
Ramey was also respected in the academic and medical worlds. She was a founder and one-time president of the Association for Women in Science, an advocacy group, and a former member of the President's Advisory Committee for Women. She retired from Georgetown in 1987, but continued to speak to both academic and lay audiences for years. Ramey also regularly attended Renaissance Weekends which were brought to prominence by President Bill Clinton during his time in office.
Ramey died at the age of 89 on September 8, 2006, at her home in Bethesda, Maryland, of complications from Alzheimer's disease. She is survived by her husband, her daughter, Drucilla; her son, James; and five grandchildren.