One of the features of aging past ninety is accumulating many stories to tell. Perhaps fewer are left alive to challenge insignificant details.
Working as a woman doctor in the days when women were limited to 10% of the admissions to many colleges, and often excluded entirely, Mary Blakely graduated first in her co-ed class at Binghamton (NY) High School, followed by first in her class at Bryn Mawr College, and the first in her class at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. In fact, she had the highest grades in five years at Bryn Mawr and was selected as a medical intern at the Massachusetts General Hospital, going on to the nation's most prestigious radiology residency under Ross Golden at Presbyterian Hospital in New York, and subsequently with Aubry Hampton. During much of that time, she lived in Philadelphia and commuted on the train to New York. She had married me a year earlier, and the train conductor grew visibly more anxious as she became increasingly pregnant during the several-month commute from Philadelphia's Broad Street Station to Penn Station in New York. Both railroad stations have since been torn down, and the baby she was carrying has been retired for ten years after being Managing Director at Morgan Stanley.
The State of Pennsylvania required a rotating internship, and while I still believe that is the best sort of internship, it was particularly galling to have the reason given that her internship was the reason for refusing to grant her a Pennsylvania license. So she got a job at the Philadelphia Veteran's Hospital, and later at Philadelphia General Hospital, the City's charity hospital of three thousand beds. Well, she never mentioned this Philadelphia affront to a premier academic Boston institution, but I didn't. Perhaps church politics are more vicious still, but this little episode illustrates how very nasty medical politics can get. Perhaps it is a feature of the human personality everywhere, but some situations freely tolerate it, while a few others just don't.
Well, in time she was offered the chairmanship of just about every Radiology department in Philadelphia, and turned them down, saying she didn't want to be chairman of any department. Perhaps she meant any department in Pennsylvania, but she never did make her feelings known. Eventually, she did become Professor of Radiology at Temple University, where she happily taught the residents for many years, during the course of which she was given the Madam Curie Award, the Lindback Award, and various other honors. She had an amazing facility to start dictating reports on x-rays before they were completely out of the envelope and always won the interdepartmental contest for diagnosis of strange films, to the point where other, mostly male, radiologists were afraid to compete with her. She won the Lindback Award for Excellence in Teaching. I used to say I didn't know whether she was any good or not, but I never met a radiologist who wasn't thoroughly intimidated by her ability to make a strange diagnosis at a glance. All her life she got along with five hours of sleep, invariably getting to bed after me and getting up the next morning before I did. Essentially, there were twenty-eight hours in her day.
So it wasn't just radiology where she excelled. Her father once told me there was nothing she could turn her hand to, where she didn't excel. Especially female skills. She was past the point of competing with males and beating them, but female skills were something else. She was a master cook, a demon housekeeper, a champion seamstress, a masterful dinner partner. Athletics were never attempted because she knew very well that men hate to be beaten at golf or tennis. It was the era of Kathryn Hepburn and Grace Kelly, and with a minimum of makeup, she turned heads where ever she went with that Bryn Mawr look about her and her painfully simple clothes. Several of my classmates, usually from Princeton, was struck dumb by her looks. For example, my book editor from Macmillan had a classmate of mine for his doctor. That Park Avenue physician never married and confided to the editor that he had been carrying a torch for her, all his life. It brought to mind the boastful lines from Congreve, in The Way of the World:
"If there be a delight in love, 'Tis when I see, The heart that others bleed for -- bleed for me."
Originally published: Thursday, October 11, 2018; most-recently modified: Wednesday, May 15, 2019