Joyce S. Laschof, ‘The Doctor Who Broke Glass Ceilings’, dies at 96

Dr. Joyce S. Laschof, who fought for health equity and broke down barriers by becoming the first woman to lead a state public health department and the first woman to serve as dean of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, died June 4 in a hospital. community for the elderly at Berkeley. She was 96 years old.

Her daughter Carole Laschof said heart failure was the cause.

According to friends and family members, over a long and varied career, Dr. Laschof has always given priority to the struggle for social justice. In the 1960s, she founded a community health center to provide medical care in a low-income area of ​​Chicago. After her appointment as director of the Illinois Department of Public Health in 1973, the year of the Supreme Court case Roe v. USA. Wade’s decision codifying the constitutional right to abortion, Dr. According to Carol Laschof, Laschof has developed protocols to ensure that women have access to safe abortions in the state.

In the 1980s Dr. Laschof used her powers as a senior university administrator to organize anti-discrimination initiatives against people with AIDS and to protest against apartheid in South Africa.

She campaigned for social justice outside of her professional life, taking her family on so many marches for peace and civil rights in the 1960s that they came to view the mass protests as a “family outing,” recalled her son Dan. According to the family, Joan Baez once spoke in their living room in Chicago to raise funds for the anti-segregation Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

“From the beginning, her work in medicine and public health has been deeply inspired by the deep commitment to social justice in our society,” said Nancy Krieger, a professor of social epidemiology at Harvard who has worked on AIDS policy with Dr. K. Lashof, as a graduate student at Berkeley in the 1980s. “This included issues related to racism, including issues related to social class, including issues related to gender.”

After a brief tenure as Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Federal Department of Health, Education and Human Services and a longer tenure as Assistant Director of the Office of Technology Assessment, in 1981 she was appointed head of the Berkeley School of Public Health. In this post, Dr. Krieger said she doesn’t want to limit her powers to administrative tasks.

For example, at the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1986, she set herself the goal of defeating Proposition 64a California ballot initiative led by far-right political agitator Lyndon LaRouche that would have authorized mass AIDS testing and, critics feared, mass quarantines.

Dr. Lashof enlisted the support of all four schools of public health in the California university system to prepare a policy analysis of the initiative, which Dr. J. Krieger said was their first such collaboration. An analysis presented to the California State Assembly demonstrated the potentially harmful effects of this measure. Krieger said contributed to his defeat.

Dr. Laschof’s friends said she approached activism with a scholarly mind. “It was about always having evidence of what problems were causing health inequalities,” says the doctor. Krieger said.

These efforts often started at the district level. In 1967 Dr. Laschof, then on the faculty of the University of Illinois College of Medicine, opened the Mile Square Health Center in Chicago, a federally funded community clinic that provided medical care to an impoverished area of ​​the city.

“She was one of the key people who helped create federally funded community health centers and make them viable in this country,” says the doctor. Krieger said.

The Mile Square Center, the second such community health center in the country, never achieved the same level of prominence as the first in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Dr. H. Jack Geigerif its founders are known at the national level.

“Joyce was often overshadowed, especially by men who were more charismatic at a time when sexism was more prevalent,” said Meredith Minkler, professor emeritus of health and social behavior at Berkeley, who worked with Dr. Joyce. Lashof on issues of social justice for many years. “But she wasn’t worried about being the center of attention. She was concerned about creating change.”

Joyce Ruth Cohen was born on March 27, 1926 in Philadelphia to Harry Cohen, a chartered accountant whose parents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, and Rose (Brodsky) Cohen, a housewife who was born in Ukraine and worked as a Jewish Immigrant Aid Society volunteer helping to resettle German Jewish refugees in the United States during and after World War II.

“Her mother clearly instilled in her the desire to play a full role in society,” said Dan Laschof. “She was interested in medicine from an early age and at one point said she wanted to be a nurse. Her mother said, “Well, if you’re going to be a nurse and do all this work, you can become a doctor and be in charge.”

But after graduating with honors from Duke University in 1946, she found her path to the best graduate medical programs blocked. According to the National Library of Medicine, many then limited the number of Jewish applicants admitted and, after the end of the war, gave preference to men who had returned from the armed forces. She eventually secured a place at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

In 1950 she married Richard K. Laschof, a theoretical mathematician. By the mid-1950s, she and her husband were junior faculty members at the University of Chicago. In 1960, she again faced gender discrimination when her department head denied her a promotion.

“The chairman informed me that he could not recommend a woman for permanent appointment, especially a married woman, because she would undoubtedly follow her husband wherever he went,” the doctor said. Laschof said at a health conference in 1990, “Se la vie.”

Undeterred, she joined the faculty of the University of Illinois College of Medicine. There, she was appointed to direct the Health Needs Study, a project that led to her work establishing community health centers.

In addition to their children, Dr. Lashof is survived by six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Her husband died in 2010. Their eldest daughter Judith Laschof died of breast cancer in 2018.

In the early 1980s, Dr. Laschof donned a cap and gown to speak in protest, urging the University of California to withdraw from participation in South Africa. She was, D. Minkler said, the only campus dean to do so.

“She stuck her neck out,” the doctor says. Minclair said. “It didn’t matter who she had to cross.”

When she was 91, D. Laschof carried a sign reading “End Muslim Ban Now” to protests in Alameda, California against the Trump administration’s ban on US citizens from entering the United States. five predominantly Muslim countries.

Towards the end of his life, Dr. According to Carol Laschof, Laschof was inspired by the many advances in social justice made over the years. But in recent months she has been stunned to learn that the Supreme Court is considering setting aside Roe v. UK. Wade.

“She was completely confused,” said Carol Laschof. “She just looked at me and said, ‘How could this happen?’

Dr. Many of Laschof’s accomplishments were all the more significant because she was a woman.

“The destruction of numerous glass ceilings was crucial in her career. Minclair said, “And that was one of her most important legacies.”