By Krystin Gollihue
There is a saying that the little stuff adds up, piece by piece. In an age of the dollar–or the million–it’s difficult to find an organization that prides itself on the little things, much less has turned those little things into big initiatives and important results. For the generations of women that make up the Women’s League for Medical Research at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, the pennies and the dimes have made all the difference.
The Women’s League for Medical Research began in 1951 with a handful of women in the Philadelphia area who took it as their mission to help support cardiovascular, pulmonary, and renal research initiatives at the newly-merged Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. The organization has lasted through several generations, and has raised over $2.5 million in small initiative fundraising for cardiology, heart, and vascular research and care. “These small initiatives have benefitted patients here for 60 years,” says Laura McFarland-Bickle, Director of Development Communications at Einstein Healthcare Network. “They had no way of knowing in 1951 the incredible strides they would help make. That wasn’t what they were trying to do; they just wanted to be supportive.”
After six decades, the organization has two remaining members, Gladys Cutler and Goldie Block. “We were a group of housewives,” Goldie remembers, “and where others might have collected dollars, we collected nickels and dimes.” For Goldie and Gladys, the hundreds of women who have been members of the Women’s League alongside them have served as mentors that have taught them the value of these small accomplishments and of what one individual can do for many.
Gladys and Goldie’s fundraising efforts have been small, but consistent and far-reaching. They hold sock, jewelry, or handbag sales and have become very important to the patients and staff of the cardiology program at Einstein Philadelphia. One of their best known initiatives is the Tree of Life, which Goldie constructs and paints herself. The Tree of Life is an installation of hand-cut leaves with hand-painted names on each which serve in honor of or in memory of loved ones affected by cardiovascular disease. It is a long-standing program that shows the commitment of the Women’s League to the research efforts of the cardiology program. Of Goldie’s hand-painting, McFarland-Bickle says, “This is what she did at her kitchen table at night for many years.”
The funds these small initiatives have raised benefit patients, fellows, and physicians alike. The Women’s League has made possible a variety of large- and small-scale enhancements to Einstein’s cardiac and renal programs, including cardiovascular disease fellowships for physicians, construction of Einstein’s first Catheterization Lab, the Einstein Cardiovascular Pulmonary and Renal Research Laboratory, the Dialysis Center at Einstein Philadelphia, and the Cardiac Rehabilitation Center at Germantown. D. Lynn Morris, MD, Chairman of Cardiology and Director of the Einstein Institute for Heart and Vascular Health, says, “You can’t walk around this institution without seeing their footprint.” Gladys and Goldie have helped support patients, physicians, technology, and education–things that are necessary for a healthcare organization to make strides but aren’t necessarily allocated in the hospital’s budget.
More than these physical testaments to the Women’s League’s efforts are the relationships Gladys and Goldie themselves have built. Dr. Morris sees them as “his angels,” as improving “not only lives, but quality of life,” and Lisa Borowski of the Office of Development at Einstein Healthcare Network says theirs is “a personal relationship that they have with the hospital and the hospital staff.” Gladys says that “people would come and look for their name” at the Tree of Life. She loves this “camaraderie…the meaning of what we were doing.”
Over the years, the number of women involved in the Women’s League has dwindled, though as A. Susan Bernini, COO of Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, says, “Even as their numbers diminished, their passion and their commitment never diminished.” Gladys and Goldie have recently gifted the last of the League’s funds to the cardiology program at Einstein Philadelphia, and in essence, the organization is closing its books after six decades of commitment to heart and vascular research.
That doesn’t mean, though, that Gladys and Goldie and the men and women of the Women’s League for Medical Research will be forgotten. McFarland-Bickle says, “People will walk down a hallway and see plaques and names that they walk by all the time. But the League’s legacy has been integral to the cardiovascular program at Einstein Philadelphia.”
The message, in Goldie’s words, is that, “I’m just a small, little part of a much larger picture.” Especially for smaller nonprofit organizations, the Women’s League for Medical Research serves as a testament to what the pennies and dimes can add up to: millions of dollars in integral education, technology, and programming initiatives for an entire medical community. Borowski says, “Anyone can do this! You don’t have to have a fundraising professional; you don’t need to have a lot of high-powered connections.” It’s one thing to be able to donate big money to an institution, but it’s not necessary for change. The Women’s League for Medical Research were the “small” people who creating intimate partnerships day in and day out, who leave a legacy that will last lifetimes and affect thousands
Since 1951, The Women’s League for Medical Research has supported efforts to deliver high-quality, technologically advanced cardiovascular care at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia. They are committed to enhancing patient care through research and to supporting Einstein Philadelphia’s efforts to secure new technology.
Krystin Gollihue is a current doctoral student in the Communication, Rhetoric, & Digital Media program at NC State University.