In the last 50 years, the Wellesley College Alumnae Association has honored more than 150 distinguished graduates with the Alumnae Achievement Award, the College’s highest accolade. A celebration of everything Wellesley alums can achieve—and the long, winding paths they take along the way—the awards bring the recipients to campus, where they meet students and offer advice, inspiration, and reassurance. This year’s recipients, Carol Remmer Angle ’48 (a pediatrician and toxicology expert) and Diane Rowland ’70 (a health-policy expert and advocate for health care for disadvantaged populations), join a pantheon of Wellesley women—judges and scientists, journalists and artists, entrepreneurs and cultural historians, and many more. They have had a tremendous impact around the world in many fields, and through their achievements, they have brought honor to themselves and to the College.
Recent Alumnae Achievement Award recipients: (top) Nergis Mavalvala ’90, astrophysicist, 2018; Lorraine O’Grady ’55, artist, 2017; Eva Coifman Sommaripa ’63, organic farmer, 2014; (bottom) Ophelia Dahl CE/DS ’94, health-care activist, 2008; In-ho Lee ’60, diplomat, 2007; JudyAnn Bigby ’73, physician, 2007
Photos by Richard Howard
The Woman Who Fought Lead
Carol Remmer Angle ’48
Carol Remmer Angle’s remarkable half-century career as a pediatrician and an environmental toxicologist is perhaps best captured not by the many patients she’s seen or papers she’s published, but rather by a story of just how far she was willing to go to investigate lead poisoning in Omaha, Neb., in the late 1960s.
Angle ’48 and her partner in crime, pediatrician Matilda “Tillie” McIntire, suspected that the mysterious symptoms they were seeing in workers at Union Pacific Railroad were connected to a nearby cluster of lead smelting plants on the Missouri River. However, they needed a smoking gun—clear evidence that the lead the plants expelled into the environment was responsible. “Back then, nobody believed that lead in the air and soil could hurt anyone,” Angle recalls.
So when she and McIntire heard that pigeons outside Union Pacific were dropping dead, they sprang into action—they showed up at the facility and, when nobody would let them in, climbed over the chain-link perimeter fence to gather the dead birds inside, throwing their specimens over the fence before clambering out. As they expected, the birds had severe lead poisoning, providing a link between environmental lead and blood lead that convinced the state labor department to let them start testing the workers in the smelting plants and set up environmental monitoring. “The things you do for public health, I’ll tell you,” Angle says with a laugh.
For her daughter, Marcia Angle, who is also a physician working in public health, the story demonstrates not only her mother’s tenacity, but also her high standards and intellectual integrity. “She doesn’t suffer fools, nor in herself does she put up with any slack,” Marcia says. “If there’s some piece of data that’s missing because there’s a chain-link fence, then it’s part of the intellectual integrity of the project that you get that.”
Angle’s work ethic was instilled in her at an early age—growing up on Long Island, the daughter of German immigrants, she spent her days peeling shrimp for her family’s seafood restaurant. However, it was the Wellesley network that set her on a path toward medical school. Angle first learned about Wellesley from her sisters-in-law, who, despite having graduated from Vassar and Brown, urged her to apply after hearing about it from their friend Augusta “Gussie” Ahrens Bauer ’39. “They said, well, [Vassar and Brown] were OK, but Wellesley was best— and they were right, of course!” Angle says.
At Wellesley, Angle decided to pursue English literature. However, everything changed one day as she walked across campus. “It was a beautiful Wellesley day in the snow, and I walked by Paramecium Pond, and I had some kind of an epiphany, I said, ‘… you know what I want to do? I want to study medicine,’ ” Angle recalls.
While completing her English literature major, Angle tacked on the course requirements for medical school, and eventually, she applied to Cornell University Medical College. Unbeknownst to Angle, the Wellesley network would soon intervene once again in the form of Connie Guion 1906, a physician at Cornell and New York Hospital. Guion, determined to increase the number of women in medicine, set up a pipeline to funnel Wellesley graduates, Angle included, into Cornell. Today, Angle considers Guion one of her earliest role models.
During the application process to medical school, she recalls Guion asking her an interview question of the times: “What would you do if you fell in love and wanted to get married?” Angle assured her that she would finish her residency, to which Guion replied that a family can be distracting for a career in medicine. Angle did finish her residency in 1954, completing two years at New York Hospital, and the final year at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC), a move prompted by her marriage to Bill Angle, a Nebraska native and Harvard-trained cardiologist.
“Nebraska at the time was just making the transition from fully volunteer faculty in the medical school to some full-time faculty, and I was one of the early full-time faculty,” Angle explains. “It was a very unusual position, and because of that, I had a lot of liberty, so I jumped at the chance to do many different things.”
One of those things became a defining arc in Angle’s career: research on the effects of lead poisoning. “I began to see children who would come in with seizures, with convulsions, with severe anemia, with brain damage, the full textbook spectrum of advanced lead poisoning,” Angle recalls. In one instance, she treated the children of a battery reclamation plant worker who was not only bringing dust home on his clothes, but was also burning cardboard battery casings in the family’s furnace. Angle teamed up with McIntire, a close friend and a Mount Holyoke graduate who was then the medical director at the county health department, and the pair quickly linked the lead poisoning to the lead smelting and battery reclamation plants. Soon, their research was off and running, not impeded by the occasional fence.
In the ensuing decades, Angle devoted herself to documenting environmental lead in Omaha, as well as blood lead levels of the people living there, and the toxin’s physiological and cellular effects, publishing numerous scientific papers along the way. She recalls, for example, discovering that children at an elementary school next door to a battery reclamation plant had blood levels of 40 micrograms per deciliter. (The current acceptable lead level is 5 micrograms per deciliter.)
At the time, the only regulations for blood lead levels were for industrial exposures in factory workers, set at a staggering 80 micrograms per deciliter. “It was a very good illustration of what happens in occupational health when they base their criteria on big, strong guys who don’t complain, who need to work,” Angle explains. “The regulations were very lax, and there were no criteria for children’s blood lead. Everyone that we tested back then, including ourselves, had blood lead levels of 20 to 25, which today would be found horrendous.”
In addition to testing blood lead levels in children and factory workers, Angle also began monitoring lead levels in the air, soil, and water near the plants and throughout the city, becoming one of the first to establish relationships between environmental lead and blood lead levels. In the lab, Angle conducted simple cell-based experiments to test the threshold for lead sensitivity and study mechanisms of toxicity.
Angle and McIntire also found another way to help the people of Omaha: In 1957, they founded one of the country’s first poison control centers at the Children’s Hospital of Omaha. The idea quickly caught on, and in 1958, Angle became a founder of the American Association of Poison Control Centers, serving as the program’s chair from 1977 to 1979.
‘I remember once at a court case back in the ’80s saying, “There is simply no safe level for blood lead. There’s always a biological effect apparent,” and the judge said, “What?!” and the opposing lawyers objected. It was a great kerfuffle at the time … I’d like to say that I’ve since been proved right.’
As the evidence began to build, Angle expanded her work beyond Omaha—she became involved in a national campaign for stricter lead standards that culminated in the Clean Air Act of 1970. Her research on air lead was used as evidence to support removing lead from gasoline—which she considers her most important accomplishment—and the connections she established between environmental lead and blood lead levels were used to set national criteria for both. She also served as an expert witness in court cases for industrial contamination. “I remember once at a court case back in the ’80s saying, ‘There is simply no safe level for blood lead. There’s always a biological effect apparent,’ and the judge said, ‘What?!’ and the opposing lawyers objected,” she recalls. “It was a great kerfuffle at the time as to whether this was an extravagant overstatement, and I’d like to say that I’ve since been proved right.”
Angle went on to become a consultant for the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. And the plants in Omaha? They eventually shut down, in part due to the Clean Air Act, and the area was cleaned up after being designated an Omaha Lead Superfund Site in 2003.
“Carol was a pioneer in children’s environmental health. She laid the foundation for thinking about protecting kids and taking steps to protect kids from those exposures,” says Rebecca Fry, a toxicologist who holds the Carol Remmer Angle Distinguished Professorship that Angle and her daughter established at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health. “She really, I would say, was transformative in the metal toxicology field—she influenced toxicology, she influenced public health, and she influenced pediatrics.”
Yet while Angle spent a significant portion of her career studying lead poisoning, it was far from her only focus. She later became interested in arsenic poisoning, traveling to India for her research, and was self-taught as a pediatric nephrologist, eventually starting a pediatric dialysis unit at UNMC. She also established new medical boards in poison control and toxicology, co-founded the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology, and spent a decade-plus as editor in chief of the Journal of Toxicology–Clinical Toxicology.
“On the bell curve of determined people, she’s right up there, but also I’ve always been humbled by my mother’s smarts, how fast she reads and synthesizes, and what she knows,” Marcia Angle says, adding that Angle is also incredibly knowledgeable about topics beyond medicine, such as modern art and botany. She also recalls her mother embarking on a series of athletic pursuits: fishing, tennis, scuba, sailing. All the while, Angle was raising three children, devoting as much energy to her family as she did to her work.
“I think her story is one that resonates with current residents and junior faculty, of how to be a warm and caring pediatrician, how to be a wonderful mother and family leader, how to be an academic leader, how to be successful in science, and wrap that all into one,” says John Sparks, who held the Carol Remmer Angle, M.D., Presidential Chair of Pediatrics at UNMC from 2008 to 2019. “It’s hard to pull off what she did.”
There is one other detail about Angle that is easy to overlook amidst her accomplishments: Due to a rare genetic mutation, she went completely deaf in her 30s, long before there was technology to help. Never one for self-pity, Angle, who now has cochlear implants, had a simple solution: Because she could only comprehend 10 to 20 percent of what people said by lip reading, she would thoroughly learn all the material before a lecture or meeting so she could fill in the gaps. Marcia recalls asking her mother how she managed her deafness “and, in her usual dismissive manner, she would say, ‘I was the only one who read everything,’” Marcia says.
Perhaps just as impressive is that in a male-dominated era of medicine, Angle was elected chair of the Department of Pediatrics at UNMC from 1981 to 1985, becoming one of the first women in the country to hold such a post. Angle brushes off most of the day-to-day sexism she experienced, explaining that “I’m afraid I kind of learned to roll with the punches on that,” but she points out one egregious example: “I started at Nebraska as an assistant professor, and I was an assistant professor for 15 years with no promotion—they would say outright to me, ‘Well, you have a husband. You don’t need a raise.’” Angle did eventually hold other positions at UNMC until she retired in 1999, including director of clinical toxicology and professor of pediatrics.
Soon after Sparks became chair of pediatrics at UNMC, he traveled to Charlottesville, Va., where Angle now lives, to seek her expert opinion. “I went down with some ideas of how to grow the department and how to improve our academic standing, and after a bit of discussion, in a very gentle way, she told me my ideas were not big enough. I needed to set my sights higher, and help the department, and she gave me some very specific advice on how to do that, which has proved invaluable,” Sparks says. “She had a level of insight and wisdom that is extraordinary, and it’s reflected in our department of pediatrics today.”
And while it’s basically impossible to get the ever-humble Angle to comment on her legacy, Fry considers her an important role model for women in science. “She has an amazing spirit, she has a very strong work ethic, and she’s really a person who is dedicated to thinking,” Fry says. But above all else, “I think she’s fearless.”
- Chair of the Department of Pediatrics and professor of pediatrics at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine
- Director of clinical toxicology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center
- Founded the American Association of Poison Control Centers
- Conducted research on lead poisoning that supported the Clean Air Act of 1970, the removal of lead from gasoline, and the development of national criteria for acceptable levels of environmental and blood lead
Catherine Caruso ’10 is a Boston-based science writer who has written for various publications, including Scientific American, MIT Technology Review, and STAT.
Making the Case for Medicaid
Diane Rowland ’70
While a student at Wellesley, Diane Rowland ’70 volunteered once a week at a community center in Roxbury, Mass., as part of an urban studies course. She shadowed a social worker, and one day they visited a depressed working mother who said she was suicidal. Staff at the mental health center they referred the woman to told her she could come for outpatient visits, but that she didn’t need a bed.
“I came back two weeks later, and the social worker told me the woman had taken her own life,” Rowland says. “That crystalized for me that I wanted to work in health care. I wanted to try to make sure those types of situations didn’t take a young mother from her children.”
Rowland started at Wellesley a year after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicaid into law. Based on England’s 16th-century Elizabethan Poor Laws, the welfare program offered health-care coverage to people eligible for cash assistance. But it fell short in supporting a large swath of Americans, like the Roxbury mother, who desperately needed better coverage—particularly pregnant women, children, and people with disabilities. Rowland became convinced that Medicaid could do better. What she saw while at Wellesley shaped the course of her life work.
Throughout her 40-plus-year career in public policy and research focused on access to care, health-insurance coverage, and health financing for low-income populations, Rowland has been instrumental in helping to transform Medicaid into a health-care program that supports more people in need. Her voice has been loud and persuasive as she’s educated policymakers, the media, and the public about the program’s importance.
‘Medicaid was always my central focus. I built my career on data analysis, and on trying to be timely and credible. The uninsured have more limited access to care, and poorer health outcomes as a result.’
“Medicaid was always my central focus,” Rowland says. “I built my career on data analysis, and on trying to be timely and credible. The uninsured have more limited access to care, and poorer health outcomes as a result. I work on Medicaid as a policy issue because I know how critical its coverage is to ensuring that low-income and disadvantaged adults and children have a key to the door … [to] health care that is affordable and accessible. I value Medicaid as the nation’s health safety net.”
Rowland has remained steadfast to her goal of improving health policy for vulnerable populations as she’s held critical roles in the U.S. federal government and academic appointments at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Most recently, she served for more than two decades as executive director of the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, which she co-founded in 1991, after the Kaiser Family Foundation awarded Johns Hopkins, then her employer, a grant to establish the commission. Rowland helped to spearhead the effort.
“People at that time barely understood what the Medicaid program was,” Rowland says, in part due to a lack of research. “We helped the public, and policymakers especially, understand Medicaid’s role.”
The commission—now called the Program on Medicaid and the Uninsured—has collected and analyzed countless pieces of data and policy at the state and federal level on eligibility and enrollment, spending and coverage. It’s information Rowland has brought with her before Congress during multiple testimonies, shared with graduate students at Johns Hopkins, and patiently broken down for reporters at some of the world’s top news outlets.
“Diane has been an important voice for helping people understand who Medicaid serves and how it also supports those who fall through the cracks,” says JudyAnn Rollins Bigby ’73, former secretary of health and human services for the state of Massachusetts. “Her leadership has made a difference in helping people understand the partnership between states and the federal government. She has also reported on the impact Medicaid has on people’s health outcomes.”
In 1993, Rowland became first senior vice president, then executive vice president, of the Kaiser Family Foundation, while keeping charge of the commission. Her expanded role included policy work on Medicare, employer-based coverage, HIV and AIDS, women’s health policy, and global health. As the No. 2 in the organization, she led a staff of 50 in the foundation’s health policy work, developed overall strategy, and worked with Kaiser’s board of trustees, which has included Wellesley alumnae Cokie Boggs Roberts ’64 and Diana Chapman Walsh ’66.
Rowland has been a sought-out leader in Medicaid in part because of her deep desire to bring a critical people perspective to the program, showing both policymakers and the public the positive impact that Medicaid has on individuals’ and families’ lives. She spearheaded a Faces of Medicaid campaign to build awareness, organizing focus groups and writing reports. “We explored different ways to bring the people alive,” she says. This year, Rowland moved into a new position, executive vice president emerita of the foundation, which will allow her to focus more on writing and on teaching at Johns Hopkins. “I’m looking at other ways to help contribute to our seemingly intractable health coverage issues and the treatment of the immigrant population in the U.S. and their access to care,” she says.
From 2010 to 2016, Rowland also served as the inaugural chair of the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, or MACPAC, a nonpartisan legislative branch agency that provides policy and data analysis and makes recommendations to Congress, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS), and states on issues affecting Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. “MACPAC needed a strong leader with deep knowledge of Medicaid and CHIP as well as the ability to work with diverse constituents,” says Bigby. “[Diane] was instrumental in making sure, as much as possible, that policy was driven by data, and if the right data didn’t exist, to figure out how to get it. She set the standard, and it was an important starting point.”
Rowland grew up in New England as an only child in Easton, Conn., a small town west of New Haven near the sea. Her father came from family of seamen, worked as a businessman, and spent his free time sailing around Long Island Sound. “I learned from my father to love the water,” Rowland says. He taught her how to sail, and in high school she sailed competitively.
As a child, she enjoyed hearing stories from her maternal grandmother and maternal grandfather—a Slovakian immigrant—both of whom lived with her. In her 20s, she traveled to Slovakia, met and visited with extended family, and found the church where her grandfather was baptized. It was a trip she has repeated nearly a dozen times. “That connection to family and history has always been special,” Rowland says. “The ability to connect with my grandparents and their heritage gave me a sense of America.”
During Rowland’s junior year in high school, a Wellesley student she knew from Easton encouraged her to visit the College. “I fell in love with it,” Rowland says. But when she told her guidance counselor, he wasn’t supportive.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Why would you do that to your father? You can go to UConn and find a husband just fine.’” Later that night, Rowland’s father told her to go wherever she could get the best education. “And I never, ever went back into that guidance counselor’s office,” she says.
Rowland arrived at Wellesley at a time when students wore skirts to dinner and visits with men were restricted. She liked doing science experiments in high school and was always good at math. At Wellesley, she thought she would become a bacteriologist. “I’d grown a few things in a petri dish,” she says. “It was an uninformed decision, and when I got to Wellesley, I realized that.” She took an introductory biology course, but was more intrigued by history and literature. American history especially captured her attention, and it came alive with the Civil Rights movement and during the Vietnam War.
During one history course, the professor had students read about every topic they covered from different perspectives. It’s a lesson Rowland carried with her into her career, one that’s been invaluable as she’s helped to bridge divides in health-care policy.
When Rowland graduated from Wellesley in 1970, students could wear jeans to dinner and have men in their dorm rooms. Rowland took a job as special assistant to the director at Boston University’s Comprehensive Drug Addiction Treatment Center. She saw, first-hand, drug users coming off of heroin and mothers detoxing after delivering their babies.
“That’s when I decided to go to grad school,” she says. She crossed the country to earn her master’s of public administration at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1973. At UCLA, she had a research job that exposed her to Medicaid. “I saw the potential for Medicaid,” she says, “for what it could do to help provide the financing and coverage that was so missing.”
Back in Boston, she took a research position at Harvard Medical School’s Center for Community Health and Medical Care, where she immersed herself in learning about federal health policies and programs. Not long after, she landed at HHS, first as special assistant to the administrator of the heath-care financing administration and later as acting deputy assistant secretary for planning and evaluation/health. Rowland later served as senior staff associate of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the Environment and eventually returned to school, this time to the Bloomberg School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins University, where in 1987, she earned a doctor of science in health policy.
After graduating, she taught health policy and management at Johns Hopkins, and then finally moved to work with the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. “We developed a model that other foundations have followed,” Rowland says, “and we tried to keep it as objective and nonpartisan as possible.”
Rowland says her most rewarding moments, however, have come when she’s mentoring other policy analysts. She often imparts advice to fellow Wellesley graduates who work in health-care policy and takes a special interest in nurturing younger analysts’ careers.
“Articulate, patient, and tireless, Diane has achieved much in her own career,” says Barbara Lyons, an independent consultant and former senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. “At the same time, Diane has focused intensely on developing others’ leadership potential.”
One of the toughest times in Rowland’s career came in 2017, she says, when Medicaid came under attack, but was then narrowly saved after Sen. John McCain cast a decisive “no” in the Senate vote to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act. It was the Affordable Care Act that had further expanded Medicaid coverage to more Americans after earlier, expansive reforms in the mid-’90s.
“Now, we see the return of talk of not providing coverage to able-bodied adults” who can’t get private insurance due to their financial situation, Rowland says. “There’s a lot of persistent chipping away at the scope of coverage.”
Unfortunately, she says, “many of the debates seem to be evidenceless now. Medicaid is caught in our country’s philosophical debate of, what do we do about health care and the poor? The case for the people being served by the program is one I think we’ve made and we continue to make.” But, “we go through these pendulum swings.”
A nation as rich and as abundant as the U.S. should be able to provide health-care coverage for everyone, Rowland says. “I can only hope we come back to a place and a time when we can be more deliberative and have more unity.”
- Executive vice president of Kaiser Family Foundation and executive director and founder of Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured
- Inaugural chair of the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)
- Elected member of the National Academy of Medicine
- Founding member of the National Academy of Social Insurance
Deborah Lynn Blumberg ’00 is a Houston-based freelance writer specializing in health and wellness and business and finance.