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Female Firsts: Dr. Joyce Cohen Lashof

Updated: Jun 12, 2023


Dr. Joyce Lashop at her desk surrounded by papers

Dr. Joyce Cohen Lashof became the first woman to be appointed director of any State Department of Public Health when appointed director of the Illinois Department of Public Health in 1973. During her life she played a big part in the development of community health centers and was a leader in the American Public Health Association and the Association of Schools of Public Health. Her interest in science and people led her to become a doctor in World War II.

Dr. Joyce Lashof sitting at a piano and smiling


Dr. Joyce C. Lashof attended the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Then, in 1953, she completed her medical residency at Montefiore Hospital in New York. Lashof then joined the University of Chicago as a physician at Student Health Services before becoming an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine. Her life was not without hardships being a woman in a male-dominated field. She faced discrimination when the chairman of the department refused to grant her tenure under the accusation that she’d use it to leave her post if her husband changed jobs. Although this was a hiccup in her medical career, it led to meeting her mentor and long-term collaborator Dr. Mark Lepper.



Dr. Lepper was the chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and helped further Dr. Lashof’s career by believing in her expertise and treating her as an equal. In 1981, she was named the Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. This made her the first woman to be appointed Dean of a professional school at the university. She passed at the age of 96 in July of 2022, but was a pioneer for women in both medicine and education.


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