Clara Raven

One of the first female doctors to serve in WWII, and a pioneer in SIDS research

Date of Birth: 1909

Date of Death: 1994

Dr. Clara Raven, Colonel AUS-Retired, and Deputy Chief Medical Examiner of Wayne County, Emeritus, was a true pioneer in the advancement of medical knowledge.

After graduating from the University of Michigan with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, she became the only female student in her freshman class at Duke University Medical School. She transferred as a sophomore to Northwestern University Medical School under a quota system that allowed only four female students into the medical school. She graduated with her M.D. in 1938.

At the brink of World War II, Clara was a John Garrett International Research Fellow at the University of Liverpool, England (1938-39). Immediately after her return, World War II began in Europe and she volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army, but was not accepted until legislation was passed in 1943 to admit women. Clara was among the first five women physicians commissioned. She served in Europe in WWII and later in the Far East during the Korean War. As chief of laboratory services in general hospitals, she was involved in the research of hepatitis infections in servicemen in Europe and in the research of hepatitis and epidemic hemorrhagic fever in Korea. She attended the Nuremburg trials in Germany and served briefly on the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission in Hiroshima, Japan.

While on duty as a tissue pathologist at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, she co-authored a Japanese textbook on histopathology. In 1961, she became the first female physician to achieve the rank of full colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

Clara Raven became Deputy Chief Medical Examiner of Wayne County, Michigan, in 1958. Her greatest challenge was her more than 20 years of research into the cause of crib death or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In the early 1970s, she testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee to encourage funding for SIDS research and counseling of the bereaved.

She also testified, in 1971, before the Michigan State House Committee on Social Services in favor of abortion reform:

“I testify before this committee because of my experience in dealing with many tragic deaths due to criminal abortions and child abuse and neglect due to unwanted pregnancy,” she said. “It is contended that the large number of illegal abortions indicate the need for revision of existing laws. Legalized abortion is not intended for population control, nor a suitable substitute for contraception. It could help prevent unwanted pregnancies, child neglect or abuse, decrease illegitimate births, and reduce maternal morbidity and mortality. It is noted that legalized abortion with proper counseling and planned parenthood will reduce and even eliminate the need for illegal abortion.”

Dr. Clara Raven received many honors, awards, and commendations, including the Elizabeth Blackwell Award from the American Medical Women’s Association (1983), and the 1962 Northwestern Alumni Merit Award. Her name appears in Who’s Who in the Directory of Medical Specialists, Who’s Who in Men in Science, and Who’s Who of American Women. She was the first female officer to become a member of the Military Order of World Wars and the Association of Military Surgeons. She was a member of many professional scientific organizations, women’s organizations, and philanthropic associations.

Dr. Clara Raven was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1987.