In February 2018, the Georgetown Women’s Alliance embarked on an effort to increase the university’s memorialization of women at Georgetown, which currently pales in comparison to the countless portraits of men hung across campus. The portraits now hanging in Hoya Court memorialize the efforts of pioneering women across Georgetown’s campuses and programs.
As I researched the women I hoped to honor, I was overwhelmed by the many untold stories of women throughout Georgetown’s history. The chance to honor these dozen women should just be the first step in increasing awareness of women’s contributions to Georgetown’s history.
With this project complete, I now propose another step in this process: naming the new medical and surgical pavilion after Dr. Eileen Niedfield (MED ’51), one of the first female graduates of the Georgetown Medical School and a true woman for others throughout her lengthy career.
Niedfield graduated as valedictorian of the Class of 1951, the first cohort of medical students to include women. A member of the Medical Mission Sisters religious order, Niedfield was assigned to Holy Family Hospital in Mandar, India, where she worked forty years and reported, “I don’t even want to come home. It is so much more satisfactory to be where you are needed.”
When she was not treating patients, Niedfield trained locals in basic medicine and health care practices. She instructed a border radio operator in medicine so that he could assist patients in the winter months when medical professionals were unable to reach the remote area that he patrolled.
Niedfield’s most incredible sacrifice, however, was her dedication to surgery. On multiple occasions, she drew her own type-O blood in the middle of surgical procedures to transfuse into her patients if they were in need. Following her work in India, she returned to the United States in 1992, and cared for AIDS patients in San Diego until her death in 2007.
Unlike many other institutions, the majority of Georgetown’s buildings are named for important figures from the school’s history rather than heavyweight donors. Copley, White-Gravenor, Poulton and Gervase are the names of the first five Jesuits to settle in America in 1634, who laid the foundation for Jesuit education throughout the nation. Other buildings, such as Healy Hall, the Edward Bunn, S.J., Intercultural Center, Henle Village and O’Donovan Hall bear the names of former university presidents.
The Jesuits we currently recognize have contributed to Georgetown by inspiring and driving its mission. They have modelled and spread the spirit of Georgetown, acting as men for others, within both the campus and global communities, for the “Greater Glory of God.” The temptation to attract a large gift by honoring the benefactor with naming rights looms large over all nonprofit institutions. As our campus continues to grow and evolve, however, it is important to broaden our scope of candidates for recognition so that our physical plant reflects the true nature of the university’s diverse population. Currently only three women — Eleanor Darnall, Anne Marie Becraft and Ida Ryan — are remembered through structures on campus.
Georgetown’s 2017 to 2036 Campus Master Plan presents an opportunity to honor another woman on campus and to preserve the tradition of naming our buildings after figures of historical importance; the unnamed medical and surgical pavilion currently under construction between existing MedStar facilities and Darnall Hall should be named after Niedfield.
The partnership between MedStar and Georgetown is more than corporate: Georgetown University School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and Health Studies both have training programs within the medical center, and the university and hospital collaborate on research. Though MedStar owns and operates the building, it maintains a strong recognition of Georgetown’s previous ownership of the facility. MedStar’s Gorman Building remains named for former University President Fr. Lawrence Gorman, S.J., who served from 1942 to 1949.
Similarly, the portraits of the current and former popes on the walls throughout the main building reflect MedStar’s continued commitment to Georgetown’s Catholic identity. After all, it was the Catholic mission that initially inspired and motivated the founding and operation of a hospital on the school’s campus to care for the sick and needy.
Recognizing Niedfield, who dedicated her life to others and served people in need worldwide, would bring attention to one of the most incredible students to graduate from the university. The Eileen Niedfield Medical and Surgical Pavilion will be an appropriate honor to her memory and a reminder to Hoyas about what true service can look like.
C.C. Borzilleri is a Senior in the College.