As we come together to celebrate women's achievements for Women’s History Month, Joslin Diabetes Center honors the important work of Priscilla White, M.D. White, starting in the 1920’s was a pioneer in diabetes management who led the way for safe, successful pregnancies for women with diabetes.
Dr. White was one of the founding members of Joslin Diabetes Center and made it her life’s work to help pregnant women with diabetes throughout their pregnancies, so they could give birth to healthy babies while maintaining their own health. She revolutionized the field of diabetes management for pregnant women and type one diabetes, using a small team of obstetric and diabetes experts who closely supervised patients. Because of her work over almost 50 years, the success rate for women with diabetes giving birth to healthy babies rose from 54 percent to more than 90 percent, approaching where it stands today—approximately 95 percent.
A Boston native, Dr. White began her career by putting a big crack in that “glass ceiling” when she graduated third in her class from Tufts Medical School at a time when women doctors were rare.
Dr. Joslin hired her in an era when women were even having trouble getting into medical school. Thanks to her perseverance, today women with diabetes are able to achieve successful pregnancies at a rate nearly matching mothers without diabetes.
Donald Barnett, M.D., Retired Joslin diabetologist and historian.
Her pioneering research on pregnancy was at a time when insulin had just been introduced at Joslin Diabetes Center. Nearly singlehandedly, Dr. White fought the prevailing opinion that women with diabetes should avoid pregnancy. Instead, she championed Dr. Joslin’s stance that tight control of diabetes was the best way to stave off complications. In addition, she advocated for adjusting medications and diet to align with hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy.
The White Classification of Diabetic Pregnancies is still used today. Refined over the years, it categorizes patients according to their risk as determined by age of diabetes onset, duration, and presence of heart, kidney and eye complications.
Priscilla White, M.D. dedicated her life to her patients, often staying with them during childbirth. When she retired, the hallways of Joslin were flooded with thankful mothers and children celebrating her professional expertise and courage.
Her legacy continues through basic and clinical research programs at Joslin, as well as the outstanding care provided by the Joslin-Beth Israel Deaconess Diabetes and Pregnancy Program team. Today, the Pregnancy Program at Joslin continues to thrive under the direction of Florence Brown, M.D. Each year, the program attracts more than 200 mothers-to-be, with all forms of diabetes, from around New England.
Support Joslin: The Priscilla White Society honors those individuals who have chosen to leave a legacy to support Joslin's mission to improve the lives of people with diabetes and its complications through innovative care, education, and research that will lead to prevention and cure of the disease.