July 25: In science and technology, spheres of society where women are woefully underrepresented, this day in history offers a bountiful exception. Here are the milestones:1865: “James Barry,” the first woman physician in modern times, dies. She was compelled to disguise herself as a man in order to practice her profession. 1920: Rosalind Franklin, the unheralded co-discoverer of DNA, is born. 1978: Louise Joy Brown, the world’s first test-tube baby, is born. 1984: Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya becomes the first woman to walk in space.
Barry, whose actual identity remains unknown, was born somewhere around 1795. After finishing medical school (at the age of 13, and already in disguise), “James Barry” waited a few years before joining the British army in 1813, where “he” served with distinction in a number of colonial postings, including India, South Africa and Canada.
While in South Africa, Barry became the first doctor-surgeon in the British Empire to perform a Cesarean section in which both the mother and child survived. Prior to that, C-sections were generally performed only when the mother was dead or dying.