Graveside Chat: West Laurel Hill Blog

Celebrating International Women's Day - Historical Women of West Laurel Hill

Celebrating International Women's Day - Historical Women of West Laurel Hill

Today is International Women’s Day and we have some fascinating women who have been laid to rest here at West Laurel Hill. These women have paved the way for many social, economic, cultural and political triumphs. Here are just a few notable women that are part of the reason of why we celebrate this day!


Dr. Irena Grasberg Koprowska; 1917-2012

Born and educated in Poland, Koprowska fled Warsaw after the Nazi invasion at the start of World War II. She would become a leader in the field of cytopathology, and co-authored a case report of the first ever diagnosis of lung cancer by a sputum smear.

She became a talented teacher of cytopathology, and a well-respected researcher and diagnostician, specializing in the early detection of cancers of the uterus, cervix, and lung. She also helped develop experimental cancer research programs.

In 1957, the family moved Philadelphia, where Dr. Koprowska encountered considerable adversity in her professional life, and was particularly badly treated by the heads of department. At Hahnemann Medical College, she began to receive recognition for her work, and eventually became the first woman to be made full professor in 1964. She was also the director of the School of Cytotechnology. From 1970 to 1987, she was director of the cytology lab at Temple University Hospital and professor of pathology at Temple University Medical School, where she developed and expanded the science of cytopathology.

She passed in 2012 and is buried in the Southlawn section beside her husband, virologist Hilary Koprowski.


Helen Bradford Thompson Woolley; 1874-1974

A pioneering psychologist, Woolley was one of the first women to earn a Ph.D. in psychology. She pioneered research, systematically investigating assumed gender differences between men and women, psychological research regarding child development, and was instrumental in social reform and women’s rights within our society.

She published The Mental Traits of Sex in 1903, in which she proved that women’s intelligence did not differ from men’s. Investigating aspects of mental functioning, Thompson concluded that men’s and women’s intelligence was similar and that upbringing accounted for small differences, rather than biology.

Woolley also investigated differences in school children and working children, and showed that leaving school to go to work did not benefit children. This finding contributed to the passage of child labor laws.

Woolley was a pioneer, breaking ground for women in academe today.


Alice Barber Stephens; 1858-1932

Artist Alice Barber Stephens is best remembered for her illustrations. Stephens was one of the first women to enroll in Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and her work appeared regularly in the most popular publications of the time, like Harper’s Weekly and The Ladies Home Journal.

In 1890, she won the Mary Smith Prize at the annual Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts exhibition for best painting for a resident woman artist for her work Portrait of a Boy. At the 1895 Atlanta Exposition, a world’s fair in Atlanta held to stimulate trade, she won a Bronze Medal and in 1899 won a gold medal at an exhibition in Earl’s Court, London for her illustration of George Eliot’s Middlemarch and Maria Mulock Craik’s John Halifax, Gentleman. A year later, her illustrations for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun won a bronze medal at the Exposition Universalle in Paris.She illustrated books by George Eliot, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and, notably, the 1903 edition of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

With artist and educator Emily Sartain, she was one of the founders of The Plastic Club of Philadelphia (1897), the oldest art club for women in continuous existence. At that time, she taught at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women and worked as an illustrator.


If you’re interested in learning more about the remarkable women at West Laurel Hill, email [email protected] to inquire about a tour.