Marianne J. Legato ’56

Marianne J. Legato ’56

Written by Nataly Cifuentes ’16


Marianne J. Legato ’56

Through groundbreaking research and dedication to her career, Dr. Marianne J. Legato became a pioneer in the field of Gender-Specific Medicine, where she has expanded upon the theory that men and women may have different experiences with the same disease.

Attending Manhattanville College because of its Catholic tradition, Marianne graduated in 1956 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry. She had a part time job at the library with Mother Buck, who became one of her mentors. Marianne was also greatly influenced by one of her professors, Angela Cave, who she described as “a fabulous person and intellectually marvelous.” Mother Hargrove and Mother Dowd also played significant roles through her college years, as they introduced her to philosophy and taught it to her in quite a compelling way. She greatly admired Mother Sullivan as well, who “made history come alive” during her lectures.

At Manhattanville, Marianne excelled academically and was also actively involved on campus. Her picture in the yearbook includes the following description of her:

Marianne’s concentrated originality, ability, and energy produce startling results, whether on the contents of a test tube or on the progress of her knitting. With her vital warmth, self-assurance, and varied interests, she is an asset to any gathering. She graced Debating Club with a subtle wit and a disarming smile, and her absence there will be more than evident. Marianne exhibits a determination and an effectiveness of action that will make her remembered wherever she goes, as she will be remembered and missed at Manhattanville.

As Marianne continued her post-graduate studies, she found that Manhattanville had provided her with a better overall education than most of the other students in the field of medicine. Her experience with a wide range of subjects, including history, philosophy, and logic, and her passion for reading made her a well-rounded scholar.

Marianne’s dream was to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a doctor. However, even though she was accepted into her father’s alma mater, New York University College of Medicine, he did not believe she had chosen the right career path and refused to support her financially. Unable to afford it on her own, Marianne had to drop out. After two years, Dr. Jose and Dr. Irene Ferrer, for whom she worked at the time, not only urged her to go back to medical school, but also persuaded the Dean of NYU to allow her to resume her education, which she did. She was offered the opportunity to pursue her Ph.D. after she graduated in 1962; however, Dr. Legato could not afford it and had to decline the offer.

Marianne completed her junior and senior residency at the Bellevue Hospital and Presbyterian Hospital of the City of New York, respectively. For the next three years, she was a Visiting Fellow in cardiology at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Dr. Legato is a professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

While at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital, Dr. Legato had the opportunity to be one of the first people to examine the heart under an electron microscope. Most of her research during this time was devoted to the molecular biology of the heart. Based on her findings, she was able to publish several papers on the ultrastructure, or tissues and cells, of the heart. These publications sparked the interest of the American Heart Association, which asked her to write a book on coronary artery disease in women. Until then, all biological investigations had been done on men. Using women for these trials was considered a challenge due to the constant changes in hormones and the risk of hurting a child in the case of a pregnancy, among other reasons. Thus, after focusing her research solely on women, Marianne concluded that the male and female hearts were not the same and that the sexes react differently to the same disease. She published her findings in her book, The Female Heart: The Truth About Women and Coronary Artery Disease. The American Heart Association was so impressed by her book that they awarded her the Blakeslee Award in 1992 for the best book written on cardiovascular disease.

The success of Marianne’s book inspired her to continue her research on the differences between the male and the female bodies in response to particular diseases. She was able to raise four million dollars from Procter & Gamble to support Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University. This was the birth of what she called the Partnership for Gender Specific Medicine. Marianne then established the Foundation for Gender-Specific Medicine with the mission “to use the study of gender to foster the development of new sciences and improve health care for all patients. The Foundation for Gender Specific Medicine supports the investigation of the ways in which biological sex and gender affect normal human function and the experience of disease.”

Dr. Legato has worked hard to make Gender-Specific Medicine a discipline that is understood and incorporated in practices all around the world. In February 2006, she was the president of the First International Congress on Gender-Specific Medicine in Berlin, Germany, for which she acted as honorary president during the next two years in Vienna and Stockholm. Marianne is currently working on the third edition of her textbook The Principles of Gender-Specific Medicine and delivered the keynote address for the 2015 meeting of the International Society for Gender-Specific Medicine in Berlin.

Marianne has not limited her career to the practice of medicine, as she has been a professor of Clinical Medicine at Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons since 1968. Marianne has also been a guest speaker at lectures and conferences within the United States and abroad and participated in local and national television and radio programs including NBC’s Good Morning America, The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, among others.

When asked about her favorite part of her job, she responded, “I have a life devoted to scholarship, writing papers and my textbook. And I absolutely adore patient care. I find that very exciting. I love the variety of my life and the levels on which I operate. My colleagues in medicine are the best in the business, so I have a lively intellectual exchange about patients with them. And of course, my work in Gender Medicine has been extremely rewarding and I have friends all over the world.”

Marianne J. Legato '56

Marianne J. Legato ’56

Marianne has been the recipient of numerous awards since the beginning of her career. To name a few, the New York Heart Association granted her the Martha Lyon Slater Fellowship from 1965 to 1968, and the J. Murray Steele Award in 1971. Her film, Shattering the Myths: Women and Heart Disease was awarded a “Freddy,” the first prize in its category of Women’s Health at the 1995 International Health and Medical Film Festival. In 1997, she was named as “American Health Hero,” and received the Women’s Medical Society of New York’s annual Woman in Science Award. In 2004, she was included in the National Library of Medicine’s documentary, Changing the Face of Medicine. In addition, the Ladies’ Home Journal established an annual Marianne J. Legato Award in Gender-Specific Medicine in her honor. She has been listed every year as one of New York’s Best Doctors and Top Doctors in the United States since 1998.

After years of a challenging yet successful career as a pioneer in Gender-Specific Medicine, Marianne’s sage advice to younger generations is: “There’s one thing that separates achievement from failure, and that is perseverance. You cannot give up, and when there’s an obstacle, you should only ask yourself ‘What am I going to do about this?’”


2 thoughts on “Marianne J. Legato ’56

  1. Great article! However, you might want to make a correction: the correct name of the inspiring professor at Manhattanville is Angela Cave – not Cabe. Professor Cave was an inspiration to many. Betsy Newman Class of 1963



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