Betty Lowell Cottle, Ph.D. '45
Betty Lowell ’45 Cottle grew up the daughter of a Methodist minister in Brooklyn, New York, during the Great Depression. Like most families during that time, they had no money but her father understood the value of an education.
As any good Methodist minister would do, he looked for a Methodist college that would give his daughter a quality education at a fair price. He found MacMurray College. “I came here on a Greyhound Bus in 1942 and spent three years at MacMurray,” Cottle said. “I went two semesters in the summer so I could graduate early. I got here simply because my father looked up the schools where, as a preacher’s kid, I could get a reasonable discount and receive a quality education.”
Cottle spent much of her time studying and working. “I was always looking for a way to make money because we didn’t have any. I waited tables in McClelland Hall. I got a job at the National Enamel and Stamping Company which I was able to work at because I knew how to use a scale through my experience in chemistry.”
It was in chemistry and mathematics where Cottle shined – with a goal of continuing to medical school. “MacMurray wasn’t known for chemistry and math at that point,” Cottle said. “I was actually really concerned by that at the time. Graduating from MacMurray, which was unknown back east, and to be a female and to get into medical school was a real accomplishment.”
In fact, Cottle was accepted into three medical schools – Long Island College of Medicine, Columbia and New York University (NYU).
“I had to decide between three great schools, which was a tough choice,” Cottle said.
To help with the decision, she visited Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan which was divided into four sections – Columbia, Cornell, NYU and what they called an open division. Since Cottle was accepted at Columbia and NYU, she went to see both schools in action.
“I noticed the NYU students had dirty lab coats, that had to mean they were more involved in the work; while the Columbia students had nice white starched lab coats so I figured they couldn’t be working or doing anything. So, I chose, much to everybody’s surprise, NYU.”
As fortunate as she was to be accepted at three great medical schools, it was never easy trying to make it in a field of nearly all men at a time when women were assumed to stay home and take care of the family. When she arrived at NYU, Cottle was in a class that consisted of 128 men and five women. It was a constant battle everywhere she went, one that she never stopped fighting.
“Women were not plentiful,” Cottle said. “In fact, the first 10 years of my career were spent listening to men tell me I was taking the place of a man who could practice.”
Cottle’s career started in Brooklyn practicing anesthesiology. Her husband, Harold, who she met during their residency, was working in the field of forensic pathology.
“My husband was mostly tied into academia, and I practiced anesthesiology in Brooklyn, became chairman of a department and had a clinical professorship,” Cottle said. “We did that for a while, had three children and suddenly we got tired, restless with New York City.”
After some searching, they settled on the Altoona area of Pennsylvania. “We moved mostly because my husband could do his forensics,” Cottle said. “And when I got there, I’ll tell you, they weren’t too happy with me in Pennsylvania trying to work in the medical field.”
There were no women physicians in the area. Cottle’s résumé was just as good as or better than any man, but she was consistently asked questions like “who will take care of your home?” This type of thinking kept her working in New York and traveling back and forth to Pennsylvania. After about a year, she was finally offered a position at Mercy Hospital in Altoona – a place she would be associated with in several capacities from an Attending to a Medical Director until she retired at age 75.
Today, Cottle still lives in the same house near Altoona that she has for over 40 years. At 92 years old, she stays as active as she can – you can find her swimming in her pool almost every day during the summer.
Cottle feels very fortunate to have had the choices she has had after graduating from MacMurray.
“MacMurray was a great place, they treated me very well,” Cottle said. “I have to tell you though, I married a man that went to Dartmouth and his attitude was to call MacMurray a little cow college – but let me tell you – that little cow college got me accepted into three medical schools.”