Piece done by Amy Cross from Northwestern News Network – 10/05/11
Dr. Margaret Gerber graduated from Northwestern University in 1939 and from the medical school in 1944. Decades after her graduation, Gerber, who goes by the name “Mickey,” still calls Evanston home.
“I’ve lived here since basically 1937,” she says. “How many years is that?”
Growing up during the depression, Mickey and her family moved to where the work was – Utah, Iowa and finally to Evanston, where her brother Jay was acting as the new student director for Northwestern. Mickey enrolled at Northwestern as a senior and graduated in 1939 with degrees in math and chemistry.
“I always kind of secretly wanted to be a doctor,” she says. “I never told my family that because I didn’t think it would be possible in the depression era time.”
She decided to pursue that dream after all when she applied to Northwestern University’s medical school.
“I was interviewed by the professor of anatomy,” she remembers. “This was in 1940. He said, ‘We know how to pick men, but we have no idea how to pick women.’”
She recalls his joke about her gender.
“When we pick women, we just throw the applications up in the air and the first four we take.”
She laughed, “At least I had the luck of the drop.”
After being accepted with a full-ride scholarship, the school’s dean gave Mickey a welcome of a similar sentiment.
“He called me into the office and explained to me that I was taking the place of a man; that it was costing the university all this money to send me to medical school; that I would probably get there and never practice, and it would be a waste of money,” she recalls. “But I stayed anyway.”
Mickey would encounter much of the same in the upcoming years. Even her medical degree was noticeably altered to include an “S” before the “H” in “he.” She established her practice as an ophthalmologist in the Carlson Building in Evanston, but she says the public still wasn’t ready for females in medicine.
“When I introduced myself as Dr. Gerber, he looked at me and said, ‘I didn’t know I was going to see a woman.”
Mickey never let that response get her down.
“I think you just took it as being normal in those times,” she says. “You know, you didn’t fight it, you just adjusted to whatever way you could do it.”
It’s something she says all people should keep in mind.
“Time takes care of so many things, you know? The older people have their views, and at age 60, they’re not going to change,” she says. “So you wait for the next generation to come along.”
Despite her experiences, Mickey has remained close to the university. The school threw a party in November honoring her 95th birthday.
If you’d like to send birthday wishes to Mickey Gerber, please post a comment below.