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A tribute to the men who support AMWA – remembering Bob Oaks

A tribute to the men who support AMWA – remembering Bob Oaks. Bob Oaks, husband of AMWA leader Dr. Mathilda R. Vaschak, was known for his longtime dedication to AMWA. He helped with many AMWA programs, including the famed “Bob Oaks” tours during AMWA annual meetings. He was awarded the Camille Mermod Award in 1971. Below is his acceptance speech:

“My services to AMWA have been rewarding in themselves. What memories this occasion recalls! –beginning with San Antonio where Dr. Rosa Lee Nemir succeeded the dynamic Dr. Ruth Hartgraves as your president and, by a brilliant inaugural address, changed my concept of the woman physician. Then there have been the many tours we have enjoyed together, especially the unforgettable trip to Mexico. There were periods spent typing biographical releases in the old AMWA office and the difficult, but rewarding, work for the MWIA Congress in Rochester. (Little did I realize 31 years ago that I was marrying not just one woman, but a profession!)

What other man can boast of squatting on the floor of a Rochester hotel suite, surrounded by the cream of the U.S. medical profession, all of us busy collating Congress documents that had arrived unassembled from the printer? It was about then I began to realize how your Association has accomplished so much with so little. Yet, I have often wondered what would have been the actual cost of those documents if each woman doctor had charged her customary office rates.

You have heard it said that behind every successful man you will find a woman – pushing! To most of you it is no secret that in y case that woman has been Mathilda R. Vaschak, MD. Perhaps some of you have wondered how I persuaded her to say “I do.” It wasn’t easy and I can assure you that it was in spite of her better judgement. There are still times, I am certain, when she wonders whether this merger can ever succeed. ..

In once sense I was pre-conditioned to become a doctor’s husband. I grew up in western New York within 30 miles of Geneva where Elizabeth Blackwell had become the first woman medical graduate and of Oswego, Seneca Falls and Phelps which produced Drs. Mary Edwards Walker and Maria Minnis, both medical pioneers, and such early women’s rights advocates as Sarah VanderVot Eery and Carrie Chapman Catt. My grandfather insisted on his daughters and daughters-in-law retaining their maiden names and their individual identities after marriage.

These things are history. But the American Medical Women’s Association is today continuing work of these pioneers and brining their dreams to fruition. Medicine, marriage, and motherhood are no longer incompatible goals for the able young woman, but it is the AMWA which can show her the way to resolve the conflicts which often arise. To me and to my wife it is sad that not every young women who could become an excellent physician is exposed to the AMWA material which might raise her vision of her own potential. But saddest of all, perhaps is the fact that so many women physicians choose to struggle alone with their problems without the insights they might gain through the Association or, having solved them, fail to share their solutions with other women doctors through AMWA channels.

–L. Robert Oaks (husband of Dr. Mathilda R. Vaschak) – acceptance speech on receiving the Camille Mermod Award, 1971.

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