Coming Full Circle in Women's Health Research with Gladys Kohn

Coming Full Circle in Women's Health Research with Gladys Kohn

It is always said that if you face a challenge with a smile, success becomes even sweeter.  Gladys Kohn can tell you about both.  Every time you see Gladys you see her with a smile, which is always refreshing!

A history major turned gift shop owner and travel agent, she moved to San Diego in 1986.  Her husband Bert had a great job offer and, like many of us, they fell in love with San Diego.  Eventually, they started a printing business and Gladys was invited to join Soroptimist International of La Jolla which she saw as an opportunity to make new friends and learn about community service.  She become part of the organization’s Health Committee and has been a member of the club for 25 years.  It was there she met Dr. Howell, also a member of the Health Committee.

She can also tell you how the Doris A. Howell Foundation got started. “Back then, the notion of women’s health research was rarely heard of,” Gladys Kohn recalls.  The concern of the group about women’s health led them to take action, especially upon the common practice of not including female subjects in the clinical trials taking place at the time and the outcome for women when facing illness.  Their mission became VERY clear:  get women’s health on the radar.

Soroptimist International of La Jolla (SILJ) is an organization that is known for acting upon community concerns; anywhere from a trip to Washington DC to meet with leading members of the NIH, to organizing community events focusing on aspects and benefits of women’s health research, to walking around in a rat costume, to creating awareness of the lack of female subjects in clinical trials.  All in all, Soroptimist HAS created an impact in our community.

Yes.  You heard well:  walking around in a rat costume!  Coming up with creative ideas sometimes gets difficult; but this amazing group of ladies had a very clear and creative way of doing it.  During a Soroptimist International Conference, a fellow Soroptimist member walked around dressed up as a rat!  In addition to creating an immediate impact on women’s research, they got away with a couple of laughs along the way!

“The only way anything was going to get done in regards to women’s health was if we actually got together and did something about it.”  Thinking of a way to keep the women’s health research momentum going, SILJ, in conjunction with UCSD and the Society for Women’s Health Research, organized a symposium on menopause.

As Gladys Kohn recalls, they ended up making money from the event, and rather than continuing to ask for donations to give to UCSD to fund research projects, they established the Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research.  “Creating the foundation in Doris’ name was a way to recognize her work and the impact it created in the community”, she recalls.

The premise under which the Foundation was created still remains:  to get students excited about a career in research.  By awarding grants to students who were involved with scientific mentors, there was a guarantee that women’s health issues would be addressed at the most basic level:  research.  At the time, the group of Sorptimists recognized the importance of the development of biotech companies, and wanted to keep student talent in San Diego; thus ensuring all elements were conducive to guarantee the student’s success.

Gladys Kohn is the kind of person that gets involved with her community.  In addition to being part of the Howell Foundation and SILJ, she has also contributed to the La Jolla Historical Society.  ‘Commitment’ should be her middle name.  She is one of the early members of the Howell Foundation’s Legacy Council.  Gladys’ work in the community was recognized with the Salvation Army’s 2012 Women of Dedication Award.

Gladys lost her sister to breast cancer in 2001.  During her illness, she and her sister promised that no matter how terrible the situation, they would find something to laugh about at least once a day.  I personally believe her smile has to be the best tribute to her sister.

When asked about how women’s health has evolved, “I am pleased about the health options women have today.  Women’s health research has certainly come a long way!  In the case of breast cancer, for example, there were few treatment options, breast reconstruction was at its infancy and many times not covered by insurance” she comments.  “But we still have more work to do towards women’s health research awareness.”

“I am thrilled that both Carol Tuggey and Bonnie Mendenhall, current president of SILJ, were invited to join the Howell Foundation Board.  It makes the undertaking of women’s health advocacy come full circle!”

It is also always said “Keep smiling – it makes people wonder what you’ve been up to”.  Together, and with the support of Soroptimist International of La Jolla, we will be “up to” many things in the years to come.  After all, this is why SILJ and the Howell Foundation are “partners in crime” when it comes to women’s health research.

So stay tuned to the latest in women’s health in 2016!  And, Gladys, THANK YOU for all your work at the Doris A. Howell Foundation.


About Soroptimist International of La Jolla:

Soroptimist’s mission is to improve the lives of women and girls in our own communities and around the world through programs leading to social and economic empowerment.  Soroptimists focus on a set of common goals: 

  • To strive for human rights for all people and, in particular, to advance the status of women.
  • To develop interest in community, national and international affairs.
  • To develop a spirit of friendship and unity among Soroptimists of all countries.
  • To maintain high ethical standards in business and professional life.
  • To contribute to international understanding and universal friendship.
  • To develop the highest concept of patriotism.


About the Doris A. Howell Foundation:
The Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research is committed to keeping the women we love healthy, advancing women’s health through research and educating women to be catalysts for improving family health in the community.
The organization does so by funding scholarships to scientists researching issues affecting women’s health; providing a forum for medical experts, scientists, doctors, researchers, and authors to convey the timely information on topics relevant to women’s health and the health. of their families through its Lecture and Evening Series, and by funding research initiatives that will create women’s health awareness and advocacy in the community.


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