The Marian W. Ropes, MD, Award recognizes the significant scholarly achievements of a middle-career woman physician-scientist. The recipient of the annual award receives a $10,000 honorarium and presents the Ropes Lecture at the Society’s annual meeting.
Marian W. Ropes (1903–1994) was a pioneer both as a researcher on the role of synovial fluid in joint diseases and as a woman in academic medicine. She was the first woman medical resident at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, and president of the American Rheumatism Association (now American College of Rheumatology). Notably, she was the first woman documented as an elected member of the ASCI (in 1940).
Born in Salem, Massachusetts, Dr. Ropes studied chemistry at Smith College and earned a master’s degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1926. After a brief stint in an MGH research laboratory, she received her medical degree from Johns Hopkins University, then returned to MGH to do her residency. In 1947, she was appointed assistant professor of medicine at Harvard, where she spent the rest of her career, becoming associate professor and professor emerita.
Dr. Ropes’s groundbreaking research led to the publication of the standard reference book Synovial Fluid: Changes in Joint Disease in 1953. Along with her colleague Dr. Walter Bauer, she had analyzed samples from more than 1,500 donors with various diseases. They showed how the chemical and cellular composition synovial fluid changed in response to a variety of diseases and described how analysis of these changes could be used in diagnosis and prognosis. Dr. Ropes was also a leader in the study of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). She was among the first to show that patients with SLE were susceptible to infection, and it was the infections, rather than SLE itself, that contributed to their deaths.
According to a Harvard biography, when Dr. Ropes was seeking to return to MGH after medical school, the chair of the department of medicine was told by colleagues that he could not offer her an existing position because no woman had ever served in the capacity before; he created a new position in order to be able to hire her. She is quoted as saying, “The only thing that women need in medicine are pockets in women’s clothes. Everybody laughs when I say that but it’s the only thing I wish they would have done that they haven’t. It’s a crime.”
Dr. Ropes’s legacy at Harvard is continued by her grandson, John D. Halporn, MD, who specializes in palliative medicine.