Barbara Peters Winn
June 28, 1927 – January 14, 2020
As a girl bent on becoming a doctor, a young woman seeking a medical education, a mature, experienced physician engaged in practice, Barbara Peters Winn, who died on January 14, 2020, faced enormous barriers throughout her life to fulfilling her professional dreams. She overcame those barriers through a combination of persistence and a determination not to pay attention to them. “My approach was not to look for prejudice and do my best,” she reflected when she looked back on her unusual career. Dr. Winn, known to friends as Barb, was born in Greece, New York in 1927 to parents raised on farms. Her father became a successful car dealer, but neither he nor his wife completed their education beyond fifth grade. Their only daughter, inspired by pioneering female physician Elizabeth Blackwell and her family doctor, decided in grade school that she wanted to become a doctor, despite family members who told her they had “never heard of a lady doctor.” After she finished Spencerport High School, she was one of only three members of her graduating class to continue on to college. She attended the University of Rochester because it was, she said, the only college she’d ever heard of. At that time only five percent of women applying to medical schools were accepted, but with the help of her college dean she won entry to the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (today part of Drexel University), then the only medical college for women in the United States. During her residency back in Rochester, New York, the young doctor met William (Bill) Edwin Winn with whom she moved to Edinburgh, Scotland; he pursued a graduate degree and she became a specialist in internal medicine at the renowned medical school in that city as well as a member of the Royal College of Physicians. With their three young children, they moved to Burma for six years. There she worked with her husband for the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, where she headed a clinic, training nurses, and even performing all her own lab tests and sterilizing the instruments she used on a kitchen stove. From that small clinic eventually sprouted the Karen Baptist Hospital, which today delivers more babies than any other hospital in Burma. While in Burma, she gave birth to her fourth child. When her husband was offered a professorship at St. Andrew’s College in Laurinburg, North Carolina, the Winn family moved to that small town where Dr. Winn set up a fulltime private practice while also consulting at Scotland Memorial Hospital. Thanks to reciprocity laws, she had no trouble obtaining a medical license but recalls how the certificate itself began, “He shall have all the privileges…,” a reminder that the world still belonged to and was run by men. Although she was the only internist in town, her male colleagues referred few patients to her unless they were too poor to pay their bills or needed help in the middle of the night. Her children became used to the sound of the phone ringing and the car leaving the driveway at all hours. Like many women in medicine at that time, she endured professional loneliness. After her husband left academia to become a political activist, Dr. Winn and her husband fought for better health care for textile factory workers suffering from Brown Lung Disease and helped found the Consumer Council of North Carolina. They worked with early environmental protection organizations to oppose the location of a toxic waste dump in Laurinburg and campaigned on behalf of the national Equal Rights Amendment. Following her retirement and a move to her husband’s hometown of Martinsville, Virginia, she continued fighting, in the successful attempt to prevent a tire burning plant there and to maintain the ban on uranium mining throughout the state. She also earned a Master Gardener certification and was active among the Henry County (VA) Master Gardeners, and she and her husband enjoyed collecting rare plants and flowers and cultivating them on their Leatherwood farm. She also volunteered at the Virginia Natural History Museum and worked for many Democratic political campaigns, frequently going door to door. She is survived by her four children: Mary Joan Winn Leith of Cambridge, Massachusetts; Peter Angus Winn of Washington, D.C.; John Ignatius Winn of Winchester, Virginia; and Amy Julia Winn of Sacramento, California. Her husband, William Edwin Winn, predeceased her in 2013. To her children and their spouses, all of them lawyers or educators, and her seven grandchildren she gave her love and an inspiring model of a life dedicated to overcoming odds on behalf of improving the health and happiness of others. Contributions can be made to: Friends of Burma, with instructions to direct the funds equally to Myanmar Institute of Theology (former Burma Divinity School) and the Karen Baptist Hospital (the successor of the clinic that Dr. Winn founded). Their website is: http://www.friendsofburma.org
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Barbara Peters Winn
January 18, 2020
My sincere condolences to the family of Barbara Winn. Bill and Barb Winn were two special people to me. I spent a lot of time with them on nature excursions as well as many history excursions. They had a great interest in the Henry County area from whence Bill's roots came. Barb was a fine lady that I will never forget. .........Desmond Kendrick, Archivist, Henry County, Virginia.