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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Dr. Joyce C. Lashof, a pioneer in the field of women’s health, has passed away at the age of 96

At an assisted living facility in Berkeley, Dr. Joyce C. Lashof, the first woman to lead a state department of public health and the first woman to serve as dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health, died on June 4. She was 96 years old at the time.

Carol Lashof, her daughter, alleged that heart failure was to blame.

Dr. Lashof, according to friends and family, was a tireless advocate for social justice throughout his long and diverse career. In the 1960s, she established a community health clinic in a low-income area of Chicago to offer medical services. Following her appointment as director of the Illinois Department of Public Health in 1973, the year the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision codified the constitutional right to abortion, Carol Lashof said Dr. Lashof established protocols to provide women in the state with access to safe abortion in the state.”

While serving as a university administrator in the 1980s, Dr. Lashof used her position to coordinate anti-discrimination and anti-apartheid campaigns in South Africa.

In the 1960s, she took her family on so many marches for peace and civil rights that they grew to see them as “family outings,” her son, Dan, remembered in an interview. A fund-raiser for the anti-segregation Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee was held at Joan Baez’s home in Chicago, according to the Baez family.

When she was a doctoral student at Berkeley in the 1980s, Dr. Lashof worked on AIDS policy with Harvard professor Nancy Krieger. Racism, poverty, and gender were all concerns that were addressed in that context.”

On her way to her current position, she served as an assistant director in the Office of Technology Assessment, a position she held for more than a decade until being named dean of California State University, Berkeley’s School of Public Health in 1981. Dr. Krieger said that she was not happy to confine her responsibilities in that position to just administrative ones.

Her efforts to defeat Proposition 64, a ballot measure in California led by the far-right political agitator Lyndon LaRouche, during the height of the AIDS crisis in 1986, were widely seen as a major step forward in the fight against the disease.

According to Dr. Krieger, this was their first time working together as a team on such a project, but Dr. Lashof was able to get the collaboration of all four public health schools in the California university system. According to Dr. Krieger, the presentation of the findings to the California State Assembly led to the rejection of the bill.

For Krieger, “it was about constantly trying to bring the data to light on what issues there were that were producing health inequalities,” as he put it.

These initiatives often had their beginnings in the local community. As a physician at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, Dr. Lashof created the Mile Square Health Center in Chicago, a federally funded community health clinic that served an underserved neighbourhood in the city.

As Dr. Krieger put it, “she was one of the major players in working to have community health centres federally financed and functional in our nation….

A professor of health and social behaviour at Berkeley who worked with Dr. Lashof on social justice problems throughout the years noted that “Joyce frequently was eclipsed,” particularly by males who were more charming at a period when sexism was prevalent. “However, she was unconcerned about being in the public eye. She cared about making a difference.”

She was born on March 27, 1926 in Philadelphia to a Jewish immigrant accountant and an immigrant housewife from Ukraine. Her mother, Rose (Brodsky) Cohen, was a volunteer with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which helped settle German Jewish refugees during and after World War II. Her father, Harry Cohen, was a certified public accountant.

As Dan Lashof put it, “Her mother certainly fostered a desire in her to assume a full part in society.” Her interest in medicine began at a young age, and at some time she stated her desire to become a nurse. Because if you’re going to work as a nurse, you may as well be a doctor and be in control, according to her mother.

After graduating with honours from Duke University in 1946, she was unable to get a place in any of the nation’s most prestigious medical schools. As World War II came to a close, several colleges and universities began to limit the number of Jewish candidates they admitted, according to the National Library of Medicine. The Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia ultimately accepted her application.

In 1950, she tied the knot with mathematician Richard K. Lashof, who would become her husband for the next 50 years. They were both junior faculty members at the University of Chicago by the mid-1950s. Once again she was refused a promotion due to gender discrimination in 1960.

Lashof reported at a health conference in 1990 that the chair told him he couldn’t suggest any woman for a tenure-track position, particularly if she was married, since she would follow her husband wherever he went. “It’s just the way it is.”

Six grandkids and two great-grandchildren survive Dr. Lashof in addition to her children. A few years ago, she lost her spouse to cancer. In 2018, their oldest daughter, Judith Lashof, succumbed to breast cancer.

Early in his career, Dr. Lashof marched in a cap and gown to urge the University of California to end its financial ties to apartheid South Africa. Dr. Minkler stated she was the first dean on campus to do so.

At the age of 91, Dr. Lashof protested the Trump administration’s travel restriction on nationals of five primarily Muslim nations in Alameda, California, by holding a banner that said “End the Muslim Ban Now.”

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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