Frantz, Virginia Kneeland (1896–1967)

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Frantz, Virginia Kneeland (1896–1967)

American physician, surgeon, and researcher . Born Virginia Kneeland in New York City in 1896; died in 1967; daughter of Yale and Anna Isley Ball Kneeland; attended Brearley School for girls, New York City; graduated from Bryn Mawr College; medical degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, 1922; married Angus MacDonald Frantz (a physician), in 1920 (divorced); children: Virginia Frantz (b. 1924); Angus Frantz, Jr. (b. 1927); Andrew Frantz (b. 1930).

A pioneering woman in the field of medicine, Virginia Kneeland Frantz grew up in an upper-class Manhattan family and attended the exclusive Brearley School for girls in New York City. She graduated at the head of her class at Bryn Mawr and was one of only five women in a class of 74 at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. In 1922, already married to her classmate Angus Frantz (they were later divorced), she became the first woman to undertake a surgical internship at the Columbia-affiliated Presbyterian Hospital. In 1924, along with giving birth to her first child, she was appointed an assistant surgeon and a member of the Columbia faculty. Specializing in surgical pathology, she became one of the first women to test the prevailing theory, among male doctors, that women physicians were unable to withstand the rigors of surgery.

Frantz also excelled in research, gaining national renown for her work on pancreatic tumors. She conducted some of the earliest studies on breast disease, including chronic cystic disease and cancer. In 1940, she was one of the first to demonstrate that radioactive iodine was effective in treating thyroid cancer, and during World War II she discovered that oxidized cellulose used on wounds controlled bleeding and was absorbed into the body. For this discovery, she received the Army-Navy Certificate of Appreciation for Civilian Service (1948).

Frantz, who became a full professor at Columbia in 1951, was also a highly effective and popular teacher. She was equally well-respected among her peers, twice serving as president of the New York Pathological Society (1949 and 1950), and once as the first woman president of the American Thyroid Association (1961). Throughout her career, she disliked recognition that focused on her gender rather than her contributions. "I'm not a medical oddity," she would say. Dr. Frantz retired from Columbia in 1962 and died of cancer in 1967, age 65.