Arthur H. Aufses, Jr. MD Archives Blog

Useless, but Interesting

As the spring very slowly arrives, the tired mind often screams for relief from the challenge of processing complex information. So, here is some Mount Sinai trivia that is guaranteed to interest without straining the brain.

Did you know:

…that in the 17th century there were Native Americans living in East Harlem and there was a stream flowing where the Icahn building now stands?

…that the first year The Mount Sinai Hospital was opened (1855-56), we admitted 216 patients, only five of whom were born in the US, and three of them listed their careers as comedians?

Mount Sinai founder, Benjamin Nathan

…that The Mount Sinai Hospital had a well regarded nursing school that existed from 1881-1971 and that 5 E. 98th Street was the School of Nursing dorm/educational building?

…that when the Hospital moved to its second site at Lexington Ave. and 66th St. in 1872, the Trustees built a large synagogue upstairs and a small operating room in the basement?

…that a Mount Sinai founder, Benjamin Nathan, was murdered in his sleep on a stormy night, and members of his family are still on the Board to this day?

…that Mount Sinai did not have an obstetrical service for the first century of its existence, only offering an OB Service when the Klingenstein Pavilion opened in late 1952?

…that there is a time capsule buried under the directory in the Annenberg Lobby that is scheduled to be opened in 2074, 100 years after it was placed there?

…that Jonas Salk and Henry Heimlich both served their internships at Mount Sinai, Salk graduating in 1942 and Heimlich in 1948?

…that in 1964, Mount Sinai had 1,326 beds, 200 more than we have today?

…that when the first ICU opened at Mount Sinai in 1962, it had five beds and was located in 1184 Fifth Ave., on the 7th floor?

…that in 1993 Mount Sinai School of Medicine became the first in New York State to graduate a class with more women than men?

…that there are at least 43 diseases, syndromes, tests, instruments and phenomena named after Mount Sinai physicians and scientists?

From the Archives: Sophie Rabinoff, MD

The photograph above shows the house staff of the Beth Israel Hospital in 1913. By that year, Beth Israel had been active for 24 years, and since 1902 it had been located on Jefferson & Cherry Streets, where this photograph was taken. (The hospital moved to its current location on Stuyvesant Square in 1929.) Although Beth Israel was still a relatively young hospital, it was already a state-of-the-art medical facility, with modern operating rooms, a radiology department, and laboratories for pathology and physiological chemistry. The hospital had a house staff, the precursor of the modern residency system, on which recent medical school graduates would spend two years living at the hospital and acquiring clinical experience.

When the Aufses Archives first acquired this photograph, the identity of the woman standing in the back row was unknown. There were two prints of the photograph in the collection, and they were labeled with conflicting dates, neither of which seemed correct. One print was labeled 1929, but this could not be right, since the clothing appeared wrong for that date and the photograph was clearly taken at the Jefferson Street location. Another was labeled 1908, but in this case, who could the woman have been? The earliest known female doctor associated with Beth Israel was Nettie Shapiro, MD, who served a one-year term as a non-resident extern in 1909, but a comparison with other photographs of Dr. Shapiro showed that it wasn’t her.

The identity of the woman in the photograph remained a mystery until recently, when we discovered a newspaper article in a collection of clippings that provided the answer. The woman in the photograph is Sophie Rabinoff, MD, who was the first female member of the Beth Israel house staff. Born in Russia in 1889, the same year Beth Israel was founded, Dr. Rabinoff came to the United States as a baby with her immigrant parents. She grew up in New York City, where she attended Hunter College before receiving her MD degree from the Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia.

Like other female medical students of her time, in addition to the challenge of mastering the med school curriculum, Dr. Rabinoff had to overcome prejudice against women to continue pursuing a medical career. As the article describes, before taking the competitive examination for the Beth Israel house staff, she had to persuade the hospital management to allow her to sit for the exam. It was only after she came in first out of 31 candidates, ahead of 30 men who also took that year’s examination, that she was admitted. Unlike her predecessor Dr. Shapiro, who as an extern did not live in the hospital or serve the full two-year term, Dr. Rabinoff became a full member of the house staff, with all the accompanying responsibilities and privileges. Unfortunately, 1913 is one of the few years for which the Aufses Archives does not have the minutes of Beth Israel’s trustees or medical board, so we have no record of the debates that might have accompanied her admission.

The photograph in the newspaper article was clearly the same person as the woman in the photograph, confirming that this was an image of Dr. Rabinoff and the rest of the 1913 house staff. A search for additional information on Dr. Rabinoff revealed that she went on to a distinguished career in public health, as documented by her entry in the Jewish Women’s Archive Encyclopedia. After her time at Beth Israel, Dr. Rabinoff served with a Hadassah medical mission in Palestine before returning to New York and becoming a public health officer. She worked for two decades for the Department of Health, where she was responsible for overseeing public health programs in various parts of Manhattan and the Bronx, before joining the faculty of the New York Medical College in 1939. At her passing in 1957, she had recently retired as Director of the College’s Department of Public Health and Industrial Medicine.