BACKGROUND: Anna Reinstein-Mogilowa was the first woman to publish a journal article on placenta. She was among several women from Imperial Russia to study medicine at Swiss universities in the late nineteenth century.
FINDINGS: Her observations on first trimester placenta built on those of her supervisor Theodor Langhans and a study of term placenta by her compatriot Raissa Nitabuch. She established the fetal origin of what is now known as the cytotrophoblastic shell. In addition, she made a close study of the uterine glands concluding that they did not connect to the intervillous space. Her subsequent career as an obstetrician was in a suburb of Buffalo, New York. Together with her husband and daughter she was a political activist.
DISCUSSION: Anna Reinstein-Mogilowa's life is discussed in the context of contemporary women in science including Raissa Nitabuch and Eva Chaletzy/Haljecka. Their stories are interpreted against the historical background of obstacles to the study and practise of medicine faced by nineteenth century women.