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Barriers couldn't stop pioneer women doctors UM graduates of '62 still going strong


An article in The Sun Tuesday about two female physicians included an incorrect location for the University of Maryland medical school graduation. It will take place at the Baltimore Arena at 3 p.m. May 22.

When Phyllis K. Pullen and Lois H. Love graduated from the University of Maryland medical school in 1962, the "old ladies" didn't realize they were marching in the vanguard of the women's movement.

They just knew they wanted to be physicians.

Both were homemakers with school-age children and were years out of college when they fought their way into medical school in 1958. Despite family connections with the institution, Johns Hopkins rejected them and the University of Maryland put them through the hoops for acceptance.

"They didn't like taking women in those days; there were hardly any women in medical schools," Dr. Pullen said.

"They wanted to be very sure we wanted to go to medical school and not just take the place of a man who would practice longer."

At Maryland, she said, they were interviewed by all five doctors on the admissions committee, "instead of the usual two."

But in the end, Maryland gambled on them -- and won.

Both women graduated in their 97-member class with highest honors and are still in practice 30 years later. And they remain models for combining marriage and successful medical careers.

At graduation, Dr. Love was 36 and had two children.

Dr. Pullen was 35, had three youngsters and later two more.

"We were the 'old ladies' of the class," said Dr. Pullen. They were also among the six magna cum laude graduates and among the five class members elected to Alpha Omega Alpha, the medical honor fraternity.

The Class of 1992 will graduate 150 new physicians at College Park on May 22; among them, 56 women.

"I'm delighted," said Dr. Love, 70, a Baltimore psychiatrist.

"Women need to be doing meaningful things. Medicine is a natural kind of career for women; it's people-oriented, and women are care-givers."

Dr. Love and Dr. Pullen grew up in a generation in which women married and stayed home rearing children. Domestic responsibilities supplanted career ideas, and women like them who broke the pattern were the real exception.

Things have changed dramatically since their student days, however. "It doesn't suffice for women to stay home any more, God bless 'em," said Dr. Love.

Dr. Pullen is very proud of the women in medicine today. At professional seminars at Johns Hopkins, "I'm surprised at how many young women doctors there are giving the lectures," she )) said.

Dr. Pullen, 69, a self-described "country doctor," agreed. "I used to be against women's lib," she said.

"I didn't think women should have careers outside the home -- until after I did it. I thought children with mothers who stayed home were luckier than others."

She combined her roles by opening her office in her 25-room, late-18th-century home in Jerusalem, on the Baltimore-Harford County line, where she holds regular office hours and patients sometimes have to step over a lounging dog. She still makes house calls, including at night.

The two classmates have kept track of one another but have not remained close over the years. They speak of each other with respect and admiration, mindful of their joint struggle all those years ago.

The difference in their careers shows in their appearance.

Dr. Love is urban with a sense of calm in her neat, functional office.

Dr. Pullen is country casual, wearing jeans as she pops out of her office to check her small, yappy Norwich terriers and the Shetland ponies in the paddock next to the house. Her office is cluttered; walls and bookcases are jammed with family and animal photos and souvenirs, diplomas and horse-show ribbons.

"She's a real old-time country doctor," said Harry Sanders, a neighbor who said Dr. Pullen has treated his wife.

The countrified appearance is deceptive, however.

Dr. Pullen graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Goucher College in 1944 as a math major. She settled into domestic life the following year when she married Dr. Keats Pullen, an electrical engineer.

"I hate housekeeping," she said.

So when her children went to school she sought new ways to occupy herself. A painting class with a group of women in Kingsville wasn't enough.

Then one day Dr. Pullen resurrected an old idea: medical school.

"I thought doctors were pretty good, and it would be the best thing in the world," she recalled.

However, plans were delayed because her undergraduate work didn't include enough science credits for pre-med qualifications, she returned to Goucher College for two years of post-graduate study.

Dr. Pullen is from a Hopkins family. Her father, Dr. Frank W. Kouwenhoven, was an associate professor of engineering, and her uncle, Dr. William B. Kouwenhoven, was professor emeritus of engineering who, as inventor of the heart defibrillator, lectured at the medical school.

When she applied for medical school, however, the connections cut no ice at all, she said.

"Hopkins told me it was impossible with three children. But they asked if I was interested in research or in the School of Public Health," she said.

"I just wanted to be a doctor and take care of patients," Dr. Pullen said.

"I wanted to be a general practitioner, that's my idea of what a doctor is. That's what it means to be a doctor, to take care of families from the time they're born until they die. I still like doing it."

And for nearly three decades she has done just that, ministering to patients in the rural area along the Gunpowder River.

The nature of general practice has changed, said Dr. Pullen, who still has daily office hours and is part of a four-physician rotation for Sunday calls.

"It used to be mostly children with colds, headaches and children's diseases. Now it's older people, mostly at nursing and retirement homes.

"I used to make a lot of night house calls," she added, "but they have been fewer in recent years as people began going to hospital emergency rooms instead."

When Dr. Love decided to become a physician, however, medical school held no qualms for her. She had been there before.

After graduating in 1943 from Swarthmore College, she earned a doctorate in physiology from the University of Pennsylvania and taught for several years at the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania (now the Medical College of Pennsylvania) in Philadelphia.

In 1951, she said, "I retired" to be a full-time housewife and mother.

In 1957, the family moved to Baltimore when her husband, Dr. Warner E. Love, became assistant professor of biophysics at Johns Hopkins University, where he still teaches.

Dr. Love then faced the same situation as Dr. Pullen. "The children were in school," she said, "and I said to myself, 'What am I going to do now?'

"I thought about going back as a scientist, but I hadn't been in a lab in six years," she said. Then, as with Dr. Pullen, an old idea resurfaced: Why not medical school?

Once Maryland said yes, the four-year ordeal began. Long hours and hard work put tremendous strains on her family, Dr. Love said, "but we all dealt with it together. My husband was very supportive and helpful and so were the children."

Because her specialty is so sensitive, Dr. Love would only say of her career that "psychiatry just appealed to me, for a lot of reasons. It's a very rewarding specialty, intellectually very satisfying. I enjoy it very much."

At this point, the two doctors said they are "slowing down"; Dr. Love has discovered "the European lunch hour" and midday splashes in her backyard pool, while Dr. Pullen spends more time with her pets.

But Maryland's 1958 gamble continues to pay off: Both women said they have no plans to retire from practice.

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