Helen P. Langner
- Written by Stephanie Ha and Bing Zheng
“To me, medicine is the most interesting thing in the world.” – Helen P. Langner
Helen Parthenay Langner, who resided in Milford for an impressive seventy years, is renowned for a number of reasons. As the fourth woman to graduate from the Yale School of Medicine, she was one of the few women who broke the gender barrier that barred women from the field of medicine. Passing away due to natural causes on the 10th of December, 1997 at the age of 105, the centenarian is honored as Milford’s oldest resident at the time of her death. Most well-known for her many accomplishments or remarkable traits as a person, Dr. Langner is also truly famed for her prodigious impact on the “Small City with a Big Heart.”
Though Langner was the only daughter of six children, she got along well with all her five younger brothers in their residence at 1 Shipyard Lane, which was demolished in 2003 due to the condominium construction. She had a close relationship with her brother Gustave, a well-known swimmer. Because they lived near the water, she took an interest in sailing on Long Island Sound. As a child, Langner enjoyed listening to operas such as the Magic Flute and Die Fledermaus. According to John Curtis, the author of “A Life of Engagement,” when Langer was at Yale University, her mother “would slip her an extra dollar to attend a performance.” Her interest in operas would lead her to listen to operas every Saturday afternoon during her later years. In addition, her favorite classical music radio station was WQXR of the New York Times. Some of her favorites included Beethoven, Mozart, and the songs of Schubert. In fact, on Sundays, she would listen to classic jazz; although she did not really like it, she wanted to know more about it. Literature also intrigued Langner. So, she attended book discussions at a public library.
According to Patricia Rosenau, the author of the article “Doctor Looks Ahead to 65th Class Reunion,” Langner graduated from the old Milford High School in 1910, the first year that the school adopted a four-year curriculum. Langner’s father was a baker, a job which produces insufficient income to sustain Langner’s college tuition; hence, financial problems were prevalent as the time came for Langner to consider college. However, she excelled in academics to such an extent that she easily entered Hunter College without taking an entrance exam. She attended Hunter because at that time, no Connecticut college had broken the gender barrier. Immediately after her graduation in 1914, she became a high school biology teacher but felt it was not her true calling. While working in an admissions office at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City, she considered training to be a nurse. Langner’s father, on the other hand, did not approve of the idea and wanted her to return home in order to attend the Yale School of Medicine, which had then begun to accept women. Her daily routine as a Yale graduate student involved her catching an early train from Milford to New Haven and walking from the Union Station to her classes. Upon returning home in the afternoon, she would immerse herself in serious study.
Initially, Yale claimed that “the lack of proper bathroom facilities for women” was the impetus behind the gender barrier. But eventually, Henry Farnam, a Yale graduate and professor of economics, donated money to the institution to execute “suitable lavatory arrangements”. Thus, Louise Farnam, his daughter, became the first woman to graduate from the Yale School of Medicine. Just two years later in the Class of 1922, Langner became the fourth woman to do so.
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