The Stethoscope Sorority: Stories from the Archives for Women in Medicine

Myrtelle M. Canavan

As stated in the caption, in this photograph Dr. Elmer Ernest Southard was observing Dr. Myrtelle M. Canavan’s efficiency in transferring bacteria cultures.

Myrtelle M. Canavan, M.D and Elmer Ernest Southard, M.D.

Photograph of Myrtelle M. Canavan, M.D and Elmer Ernest Southard, M.D.
1915

In this 1920 letter to Dr. Southard’s family, Dr. Canavan along with 53 other individuals, paid tribute to the training and inspiration she received from Dr. Southard. Dr. Canavan first met Dr. Southard while serving as a laboratory assistant at the Danvers State Hospital where she worked from 1907-1910. Following her work at the Danvers State Hospital, Dr. Canavan worked from 1910-1914 as a pathologist for the Boston State Hospital. In 1914, Dr. Canavan received a lucrative offer from Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane. So convinced of her abilities, Dr. Southard, Pathologist for the Massachusetts State Board of Insanity, wrote a letter to the Board and requested a salary increase for Dr. Canavan and a new title, Assistant to the Pathologist. In a follow up letter he wrote, “I might add that as pathologist to the Board I believe that Dr. Canavan’s remaining in Massachusetts would add tremendously to the volume and quality of the pathologist’s own work…”.

Letter from the assistants and students of Elmer Southard, M.D. to his children

Letter from the assistants and students of Elmer Southard, M.D. to his children
17 February 1920

In 1912, Dr. Cushing was appointed Surgeon-in-Chief at the newly opened Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. That same year, he was also appointed Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School. Considered the “father of American brain surgery,” he developed many of the basic techniques used in neurosurgery today. He ends his letter to Dr. Canavan by recognizing that between the lines of the scientific treatise she has written about Southard, there runs a feeling of warm regard, “…for the memory of this very remarkable fellow.”

Letter from Harvey Cushing, M.D. to Myrtelle Canavan, M.D.

Letter from Harvey Cushing, M.D. to Myrtelle Canavan, M.D.
31 January 1927

Dr. Canavan had the unique opportunity of studying the brain of her mentor, Dr. Elmer Southard along with the brains of his parents, Martin Southard and Olive Wentworth Knowles. This book is the culmination of her research on the Southard family.

Elmer Ernest Southard and his parents: a brain study

Elmer Ernest Southard and his parents: a brain study
by Myrtelle M. Canavan, M.D.
1925

On the occasion of her 62nd birthday, Dr. Canavan received this card from a group of women who congratulated her on being a woman who “…truly exemplified the teaching of Hippocrates....” After being mentored by Dr. Southard, Dr. Canavan also excelled as a mentor. She trained neuropathologist Louise Eisenhardt, who for many years was considered the world expert on brain tumor diagnosis. In 1938, Dr. Eisenhardt was elected the first woman president of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons; she is the only woman to have held that position.

Card given to Myrtelle M. Canavan, M.D.

Card given to Myrtelle M. Canavan, M.D.
1941