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Several pictures of doctors who are featured on the Local Legends web site

MEET LOCAL LEGEND: Jeanne Montgomery Smith, M.D.

Picture of Jeanne Montgomery Smith
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Jeanne Montgomery Smith, M.D.

“I went into medicine because I wanted to help. When I was 16, I won a local art prize and everybody thought I'd be an artist, but I wanted to be a doctor. The next year, when I was 17, I started medical school.”


James A. Leach



When Jeanne Montgomery Smith accepted her first medical position in 1942, she was the only woman on the staff of Toronto General Hospital. Two years later at the height of World War II, she was one of the few women doctors serving in the Canadian Navy. Being a pioneer for women in medicine was good practice for Smith, who has gone on in her long illustrious career to help start a medical school and advance new theories in her greatest area of interest–immunology and allergies.

"During the war and after, women doctors still weren't taken seriously. I just ignored the put-downs and pushed on," she says today.

Smith has spent most of her long career associated with the University of Iowa, where she began as an instructor in Internal Medicine in 1955, and later helped establish the school's Allergy Division.

During a leave of absence (1976-1978), she helped start the Medical School of East Tennessee State University (now the Quillen College of Medicine) along with her husband, Ian Smith, M.D. and Ronald Couden, M.D. Located in a rugged rural region of Appalachia with an underserved population of 3.5 million, it was a much needed facility.

After helping establish the medical school, Smith started a medical residency program and began to recruit department heads. Since graduating its first class in of doctors in 1982, East Tennessee recently announced that it just passed the 1200-graduate mark.

Nominated as a Local Legend by Rep. James A. Leach (R-IA-2), Smith has garnered praise for her research into the possible viral cause for asthma and allergies, a theory that has gained adherents in recent years.

She remains a resource for students and colleagues for information and understanding of atopic disease, and continues to follow its epidemiology. In 2003, in her mid-80s, she co-authored a paper in the journal Chest on the need to explore a viral hypothesis for atopic disease. She is still an active reviewer for the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Jeanne Montgomery Smith began her career with a residency at Toronto General Hospital where she was also Chief Resident (1943-1944). She then served as a Surgeon Lieutenant in the Canadian Navy during WW II, and later completed a Fellowship in Internal Medicine and Pathology at the University of Toronto (1946-1948). She was a research fellow at Johns Hopkins Hospital (1949-1951), where her lifetime interest in viral causes for asthma and allergies first took root.

In 1982, she was elected to the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame. The University of Iowa appointed her Professor Emeritus in 1988.

A colleague, Zuhair Ballas, M.D. Director of Allergy/Immunology at the University of Iowa wrote of her: "Dr. Smith has been a pioneer for women in medicine and refused to let the prevailing biases against women deter her from pursuing her passion to serve, to learn, and to teach. She has been an inspiration to innumerable physicians."



Served as Surgeon Lieutenant in Canadian Navy


Begins career as Fellow, Internal Medicine and Pathology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada


Appointed Fellow, Virology-Immunology-Allergy (Biological Division), Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD


Appointed Instructor in Internal Medicine, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA


Elected to the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame


Appointed Associate Professor Emeritus, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA




University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada


Internal Medicine

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