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A Quiet Revolution: The Birth of the Genetic Counselor at Sarah Lawrence College, 1969

  • Alexandra Minna SternEmail author
Original Research

Abstract

In 1969 Melissa Richter founded the first master’s degree genetic counseling program in the country at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. This article examines the myriad factors that contributed to the birth of the genetic counselor and situates this historical watershed in its social, cultural, academic, and medical context. This article highlights Richter’s prescience and path-breaking vision, evaluates the Sarah Lawrence program during the years of her directorship (1969–1972), and explores how this early foundation subsequently shaped the field of genetic counseling. Close attention is paid to the ethical issues that concerned Richter and their ongoing relevance to genetic health professionals today. This article is based on historical research in archives, consultation of primary sources, and oral history interviews with genetic counselors, geneticists, and allied professionals.

Keywords

Genetic counseling Genetic counseling programs Ethics History Sarah Lawrence College Melissa Richter 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The research for this article was supported by a National Library of Medicine-National Institutes of Health Publication Grant and a National Endowment for the Humanities (Healthcare and Humanities Initiative) Fellowship. I would like to thank Robert Resta, Joan Marks, Jon Weil, June Peters, Michael Begleiter, Audrey Heimler, Jessica Davis, Kurt Hirschhorn, Charles Epstein, Jacquelyn Mattfeld, Barbara Biesecker, Diane Baker, Wendy Uhlmann, and two anonymous reviewers for their contributions to and insightful comments on this essay.

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Copyright information

© National Society of Genetic Counselors, Inc. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for the History of MedicineUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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