Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Dr. Flora Pollack, 1865-1938
By Anna Assogba, Research Librarian, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Physician; Speaker at Maryland Senate hearing
Flora Pollack was born on September 5, 1865, in Baltimore, Maryland. Her parents, both German Jewish immigrants, were Uriah and Hannah Pollack, and she had four sisters, Adele, Jeanette (a twin to Flora), Ida (who also became a doctor), and Arabella (who died at 10 years of age). She attended the Woman's Medical College of Baltimore, graduating in 1891. Following graduation, she interned at the Blockley Hospital in Philadelphia. From 1896-1897, she was a Lecturer on Embryology at the Woman's Medical College, and she became Associate Professor of Embryology and Physical Diagnosis there in 1897. She studied in Berlin in 1897 and then returned to Baltimore. She became an assistant in the Department of Gynecology at Johns Hopkins Hospital, specializing in women's venereal diseases, in 1900 and worked there until 1913, with a leave of absence in 1912.
In 1909, during her time at Johns Hopkins, she published a report titled "The Acquired Venereal Infections in Children: A Report of 187 Children Treated in the Women's Venereal Department of the Johns Hopkins Hospital Dispensary." In the report, she detailed a trend that she had been seeing in her patients at the hospital - that of "the unusually large number of young children brought [t]here for the treatment of acquired venereal infections." After investigating this situation, she formed what she called an "infectionist theory." Apparently, at the time, there was a superstition widely circulated that a person infected with either gonorrhea or syphilis could rid themselves of the disease by infecting another person with it. The preference was to infect a virgin, which meant that children were often the targets. Pollack hoped to counter this superstition with accurate medical information, which led to her giving numerous talks on hygiene at various women's and children's institutions over the years, including the Baltimore Section of the Council of Jewish Women, the United Women of Maryland, the Baltimore Circle of the National Congress of Mothers, the Colored Young Women's Christian Association, the Prince George's Committee of the Women's Section of the Maryland Council of Defense, the Baltimore County Branch of the Children's Aid Society, and the Maryland branch of the National Woman's Party. Pollack was one of the first doctors to attribute the extreme spread of gonorrhea and syphilis in children to assault by infected adults, rather than through transmission via shared linens or restroom facilities. In fact, she stressed that "the possibilities of towel, bathtub or toilet infections of gonorrhoea are extremely rare, but they offer a very useful shield for a guilty individual, and they also impede justice, and make it extremely difficult to protect children from these assaults."
In addition to her professional work at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Pollack also served as a visiting physician for the House for Mothers and Infants, the Female House of Refuge, and the Working Girls Home. She also put her medical training to use in the influenza epidemic in Virginia, in 1918. In line with her interest in public service, Dr. Pollack also served in various public service roles, including as president of the Woman's Medical College Association, member of the Women's Auxiliary of Maryland, director of the Baltimore section of the Council of Jewish Women, chairman of the Industrial and Social Conditions Standing Committee for Maryland, trustee of the Prisoners' Aid Society of Maryland, president of the Daughters of Israel, and a councilor for the Medical Women's National Association. Along with Dr. P. S. Bourdeau-Sisco, she founded (and served as the first president of) the Woman's Medical Society of Maryland, in 1914. This organization's focus was on enhancing the status of women in the medical field, partly through increasing their opportunity to network with other women in the field. Later on, she served as Treasurer and Recording Secretary for the Society. She also represented the Society on a committee to promote legislation for women and children.
Though it is evident from her professional and public service work that she was dedicated to the work of promoting the cause of women, her main connection to the suffrage movement came in 1910. In February of that year, she traveled to Annapolis, along with other suffragists, including Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, to speak at a hearing before the Committee on Constitutional Amendments. Dr. Pollack argued for the right of women to vote, based on the ability it would give them to protect their children through political action. Unfortunately, this hearing did not lead to any concrete action by the Maryland Senate.
Dr. Pollack passed away on May 27th, 1938, at her home in Baltimore.
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