Julia Gordon Arrowood (1900 - 1984): A Brilliant Anesthesiologist and a Woman of Many Firsts in Medicine

UMMS Affiliation

School of Medicine; Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Care

Publication Date


Document Type



Anesthesia and Analgesia | Anesthesiology | History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Women's History


After a brief "golden age" in the late 1800s, the patriarchal establishment fought back and women faced increasing restrictions in practicing medicine. In 1900, 18.2% of all physicians in the city of Boston were women, but this number decreased to 8.7% by 1930. The relatively young field of anesthesiology was one of the more welcoming specialties for women during this time. History has been unkind to these early female trailblazers who have often been overlooked in favor of the men in their fields. Julia Gordon Arrowood (1900-1984) was a forerunner for women in medicine and a prominent anesthesiologist in Boston from the 1930s until the 1950s. Her work included not only clinical medicine, but also research and teaching. She attended Boston University School of Medicine, graduating as valedictorian in the class of 1933. She interned at Belmont Hospital in Worcester, MA where she decided on a career in anesthesiology. She was accepted as a resident at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) by chief-anesthetist Henry Beecher in 1935, thereby becoming the first woman anesthesiology resident in Massachusetts. She remained at MGH and was named Acting Chief of Anesthesia in 1943. In 1944, she became president of the New England Society of Anesthesiologists, another first for a woman. In 1946, she joined Reginald Smithwick's team as Chief of Anesthesia at Massachusetts Memorial Hospital, Boston, and concurrently held the position of Professor of Anesthesiology at Boston University School of Medicine. Arrowood led many of the earliest studies on spinal anesthesia, muscle relaxants, and spinal headaches. In 1957, she moved to Kentucky and joined the United Mine Workers hospital system where she worked until her retirement in 1970. Women such as Julia Arrowood remain underrepresented in the annals of the history of medicine. Much work is needed to recognize the many contributions made by women physicians and to provide equal opportunities, pay, and status.


Anesthesia history, Firsts in anesthesia, Julia Arrowood, Regional anesthesia, Women in medicine, Women leaders

DOI of Published Version



Makhoul KG, Desai MS. Julia Gordon Arrowood (1900 - 1984): A Brilliant Anesthesiologist and a Woman of Many Firsts in Medicine. J Anesth Hist. 2020 Sep;6(3):133-142. doi: 10.1016/j.janh.2020.06.002. Epub 2020 Jun 26. PMID: 32921483. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Journal of anesthesia history

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Link to Article in PubMed

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