Ruth Boynton was a physician, researcher, and administrator who spent almost her entire career at the University of Minnesota (U of M). She worked in public health and student health services. At that time there were few women in any of these fields. She was Director of the University Student Health Service from 1936 to 1961. It was renamed the Boynton Health Service in her honor in 1975.
Ruth Evelyn Boynton was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1896. She decided to become a doctor while she was in high school. Her family physician, Dr. Mary P. Houck, was said to have set an example that influenced Dr. Boynton's decision. She started college at La Crosse State Normal School and transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She graduated with a major in Medical Sciences and coursework in Latin and French.
Dr. Boynton graduated from the U of M Medical School in 1921. In the same year, she was hired as one of the first full-time physicians at the U of M Student Health Service. In her first year she treated patients during serious outbreaks of scarlet fever and influenza. She saw patients with a wide variety of diseases, including tuberculosis. Over the years, tuberculosis became a major focus of her research and publications. Dr. Boynton was Director of the Minnesota Department of Health Division of Child Hygiene from 1923 to 1927. She also spent one year at the University of Chicago, from 1927 to 1928, as the Chief Medical Advisor for Women and Assistant Professor of Medicine. In 1929 she returned to the U of M for the rest of her career.
Harold Diehl, a previous director of the Student Health Service, recommended Dr. Boynton for the job of Director. In his letter, he commented that he wasn't sure if a woman could do the job, but if there was one could, it was Ruth Boynton.
Dr. Boynton was Director of the Student Health Service from 1936 until her retirement in 1961. During this time she expanded it into one of the best and most complete student health services in the country. Dr. Boynton started several new programs during her time as Director. They include a special food service for students with diseases such as diabetes, hiring health educators to promote disease prevention, and managing the use of radioactive materials on campus. She also boosted the amount of psychological and psychiatric counseling services. As Director, she served as an administrator, physician, researcher, and teacher. She also ran the U of M School of Public Health during World War II when its Director left to serve in the Army.
During her career, Dr. Boynton was active in groups such as the American College Health Association. The association now awards an annual Ruth E. Boynton Award for service to the Association. She served for twenty-two years on the Minnesota State Board of Health, and was twice elected its President, in 1945 and 1951.
Dr. Boynton retired from the University in 1961. She moved to Florida where she volunteered her time as the secretary-treasurer of the American College Health Association for several years. In 1975, the University of Minnesota honored the career and contributions of Dr. Boynton by renaming the Student Health Service as Boynton Health Service, the name it still bears. She passed away in 1977.
Menning, Virginia. "She Runs Health Service." Minneapolis Times Tribune, May 20, 1940.
Mindrum, Beverly. "'U' Doctor Finds Her Job Grows each Year." Minneapolis Star, November 13, 1959.
"U Health Service's Dr. Boynton Retires." Minnesota Daily, April 18, 1961.
"'U' Health Service Officer to Retire in July." Minneapolis Tribune, May 21, 1961.
"U Health Head Honored." St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 12, 1961.
Shepard, William P. "Ruth Evelyn Boynton, M.D." Journal-Lancet 84, vol.10 (Oct. 1964): 355-358.
Dr. Boynton became the Director of the University of Minnesota Student Health Service in 1936, the first woman in the country to hold that position at a co-educational institution.