Dorcas H. Padget, 1906–1973

Dorcas Hager Padget

Image source: from the Max Brödel Archives, in the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA.

By Lydia Gregg and Gary Lees

Dorcas Hager Padget was a true innovator not only as a neurosurgical illustrator, but also as a leader in the field of neuroembryology. Born in Albany, NY, Padget attended Vassar College for three years before appealing to Max Brödel for early entry into the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine at Johns Hopkins. Initially reluctant, Brödel was so impressed with her portfolio that he agreed to accept her for training and potentially for a position working with the eminent Hopkins neurosurgeon, Walter Dandy, so that she might be able to help her two sisters with college tuition.

Tremendously gifted as an observer, critical thinker and illustrator, Padget received the highest praise ever noted by Brödel regarding any of his students. She began working with Dandy while still in the studio with Brödel, gaining fame and acclaim as an extraordinary neurosurgical illustrator. Recognizing her brilliance, Dandy encouraged her to pursue her own research. This lead to her two seminal works detailing for the first time the development of arteries and veins of the nervous system using microreconstruction techniques on the Carnegie embryo collection. As noted by Kretzer et al. 20041, “Her scientific approach, meticulous attention to detail, and remarkable artistic ability made Hager Padget’s publications on neuroembryology unequaled in the medical literature.”

Dorcas Padget began to transition from illustrator to medical researcher following the death of Walter Dandy in 1946. She had to overcome the duel barriers presented to female scientists and those lacking a formal degree. Despite these hurdles, Padget continued to make lasting contributions to developmental neuroanatomy. As fittingly stated in her autobiography published in Vassar Quarterly (p. 38–42, 1973), Padget published “more than one equivalent of a PhD thesis.” She also recalled a unique facet of medical illustration that fortified her ability as a researcher. “An irony is that the new evidence [concerning neuroschisis] could readily have been missed had I been encumbered with too many preconceived notions of a traditional career. Moreover, an illustrator’s training helps one really to see what is looked at.”

1. Ryan Kretzer, Ranice Crosby, David Rini, and Dr. Rafael Tamargo, Dorcas Hager Padget: neuroembryologist and neurosurgical illustrator trained at Johns Hopkins. Journal of Neurosurgery, Vol. 100, April 2004, pp. 719-730

Max Brödel at His Desk

Max Brödel at His Desk

Sketch by Dorcas Hager Padget, Brödel Archives

Development of Intracranial Arteries

Development of Intracranial Arteries

Pen and Ink, Image source: from the Max Brödel Archives, in the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA. Illustrations used by permission of Human Developmental Anatomy Center, National Museum of Health and Medicine, Silver Spring MD. Defense Health Agency

Development of Intracranial Veins

Development of Intracranial Veins

Pen and Ink, Image source: from the Max Brödel Archives, in the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA. Illustrations used by permission of Human Developmental Anatomy Center, National Museum of Health and Medicine, Silver Spring MD. Defense Health Agency