Over the next 30 days, The Birmingham Buff will feature 30 remarkable women who have made their mark on Birmingham’s history.
A Woman You Should Know #8
Louise Branscomb was born in a Birmingham church parsonage during a tornado in 1901 to Louis, a pastor in the Methodist Episcopal church, and his wife Minnie. The family was radically progressive compared to most of their neighbors.
She studied music at Huntingdon College and received a medical degree from Johns Hopkins in 1928. In 1931, she started her private practice in Birmingham as an obstetrician-gynocologist, making her one of the first female physicians to practice in the city. According to Lawton Higgs, Branscomb worked at Hillman Hospital prior to starting her practice but had been forced to quit after it was discovered she was dispensing birth control to poor patients.
Branscomb was a sociology professor at Birmingham-Southern College from 1938 to 1947. During a feature on Branscomb in an issue of the school’s alumni magazine, one student remembered her as “caring and she wasn’t afraid to talk to her students, especially females, about issues that weren’t talked about very much then…like family planning.”
Branscomb left her practice from 1944 to 1945 to serve during World War II. Her work as a major in the United States Public Health Service took her to Greece, Italy, and North Africa.
When she returned to Birmingham, Branscomb continued her activism through her church. By a number of accounts, she worked to help those who were oppressed achieve greater equality. The United Methodist Women of the North Alabama Conference set up the “Louise Branscomb Barrier Breaker of the Year” award in 1990. The award honors a United Methodist who is “willing to risk and stand up for the rights of women and ethnic minority persons,” according to this website.
Branscomb never married or had children. Upon her death in 1999, she left nearly six million dollars to Birmingham-Southern, Greater Birmingham Ministries, and First United Methodist Church of Birmingham.