Leona Baumgartner


Letter from Joan Carolyn Zulch to Leona Baumgartner, M.D.
24 August 1956

In November 1954, Mayor Robert Wagner appointed Dr. Leona Baumgartner the first female health commissioner in New York City history. Prior to this appointment, Dr. Baumgartner had been tirelessly working to expand the scope of public health services in the city. Following her ground breaking appointment as New York City health commissioner, President Kennedy appointed her in 1962 to head the Office of Technical Cooperation and Research at the Agency for International Development, which made her the highest ranking woman in the United States government at the time. Dr. Leona Baumgartner was one of many pioneering physicians highlighted in Ester Pohl Lovejoy’s book, “Women Doctors of the World.” 


Women Doctors of the World by Esther Pohl Lovejoy, M.D.

Esther Pohl Lovejoy’s book, “Women Doctors of the World,” was published in 1957 and chronicled the history of women in medicine, including influential leaders like Leona Baumgartner. Dr. Lovejoy herself became the first woman to direct a city department of health, when she was appointed director of the Portland Board of Health in Oregon in 1907. In 1919, she helped found the Medical Women’s International Association.


Letter from Rajkumari Amrit Kaur to Leona Baumgartner, M.D.
8 September 1956

In 1955, at the request of India’s Minister of Health, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Dr. Baumgartner traveled to India for two months to consult on hygiene and family planning. She was accompanied on the trip by her husband, Nathanial M. Elias. The previous year, Minister Kaur spent four weeks in the United States as a guest of the Rockefeller Foundation and the U.S. government. These visits began a professional and personal relationship between the two women.


Photograph of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur
The inscription reads, “To Leona and Nat - With my dear love Amrit.”

Rajkumari Amrit Kaur was a champion of women’s rights. She was a founding member of the All India Women’s Conference and the Indian Red Cross. In 1947, after India gained its independence from the British, Ms. Kaur was the first woman appointed to a cabinet position. She served as Minister for Health for ten years. In 1950, she was unanimously elected chairman of the World Health Organization’s third annual assembly.

Pioneering Women
Leona Baumgartner