Judy Leavitt


From the moment Judith Walzer Leavitt began her career at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1975, she demonstrated excellence in and dedication to all three prongs of academic life: Judy has pursued ambitious and cutting edge research, developed creative and inspired undergraduate and graduate teaching, and demonstrated exemplary professional and university service.

Judy’s research has focused on the social history of medicine, childbirth, fatherhood, and public health.  Her first book, The Healthiest City: Milwaukee and the Politics of Health Reform, demonstrated how social history could broaden understanding of medical history.  She showed how class and ethnicity, as well as politics and economics, were essential to the successful implementation of public health initiatives based on new scientific understandings of disease and its transmission.

Her next book, Brought to Bed: Childbearing in America, 1750-1950, transformed the history of childbirth by focusing on the experiences of birthing mothers.  It illustrated how women’s perspectives and decisions changed medical practice by influencing the movement of birth from the home to the hospital.  Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public’s Health humanized one of the most infamous figures in the history of disease—Mary Mallon, previously demonized as “Typhoid Mary,” the first American identified as a “healthy carrier.” By analyzing a variety of perspectives on Mary Mallon, Judy showed how new scientific knowledge interacted with gender, ethnicity, class, and media coverage to influence Mallon’s experiences.  She focused throughout on the conflict between protecting the public’s health and preserving individual rights.  Judy’s most recent book, Make Room for Daddy: the Journey from the Waiting Room to the Birthing Room, used first-hand accounts from letters, journals, personal interviews, and other sources to understand the changing experiences of expectant fathers from the 1940s to the 1980s. Judy argued that men, along with their wives, pressured doctors and hospitals to admit expectant fathers into labor and delivery rooms to share in the miracle of birth.

In all her research, Judy focused on people and their stories—on immigrants and workers; on patients, pregnant women, and expectant fathers; on people neglected or overlooked in previous historical accounts.  She addressed themes of power and control, or lack of control, and deepened our understanding of the complex ways in which science and society, politics and personality, identity and perspectives interact to transform medical practice and public health.

Judy translated her passion for medical history into passionate and skilled teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  Her interests and expertise have shaped the curriculum of the departments of Medical History and Bioethics and Gender and Women’s Studies and the history of science, medicine and technology graduate program.  For medical history, she designed “Society and Health Care in America,” a course now associated with Ron Numbers, and she created “The Development of Public Health in America.” For Women’s Studies, she and Ruth Bleier developed “Biology and Psychology of Women;” she and Mariamne Whatley developed and taught “Childbirth in the United States;” she also designed and taught “Women and Health in American History.”  These courses have left an enduring impression on countless students.  Indeed, some graduate students and undergraduates have found in these courses their life’s work.  These courses have led to dissertation topics, applications to medical schools, lives dedicated to childbirth, careers devoted to public health. In addition to the individual lives these courses have touched, they have also helped create the identity of the departments themselves, providing a foundation at the intersection of women, medicine, health, and science that both departments have built upon. In 2010, the University recognized her with a Distinguished Teaching Award.

Her distinguished scholarship and teaching has been matched by her distinguished service to the university and to the history profession.  Her leadership positions are too many to list.  Some highlights include serving as chair of the History of Medicine department from 1981 through 1993, as Associate Dean for Faculty in the Medical School from 1996-1999, and as President of the American Association of the History of Medicine from 2000 through 2002.

In recognition of her many contributions, Judy was named the Evjue-Bascom Professor of Women’s Studies (1986-1995) and the Ruth Bleier WARF Professor of History of Medicine, History of Science, and Women’s Studies. She is presently the Rupple Bascom and Ruth Bleier Professor Emerita of Medical History and Bioethics, History of Science, and Gender and Women’s Studies.

In many of the positions she has held, Judy was a pioneer.  She was the first woman faculty member of the History of the Medicine department and was among the first women to hold leadership positions in the School of Medicine.  She relied on her experiences to become a dedicated mentor to women faculty members and an effective advocate for underrepresented groups.  In all the positions Judy has held, she has aimed to advance her discipline, her organization, her colleagues, and her students.

Please help us to honor Judy and her contributions to the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies by making a donation to the Leavitt/Whatley/Worcester fund.

To mail a donation to the fund, include the fund name and number designation (12547167 – Leavitt/Whatley/Worcester Fund) on your check, payable to the University of Wisconsin Foundation, and send it to:

UW Foundation
U.S. Bank Lockbox
P.O. Box 78807
Milwaukee, WI 53278-0807

To make a secure gift online using your credit card, please fill out the on-line donation form.

If you have other questions or would like to talk about other giving opportunities, please contact Ann Lippincott, Managing Development Program Director, College of Letters and Science, University of Wisconsin Foundation at ann.lippincott@supportuw.org or 608-308-5320.

Thank you for your support!