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Austin, Harriet N. (1825-1891), hydropathic physician and health and dress reformer  

Jane B. Donegan

Austin, Harriet N. (1825–1891), hydropathic physician and health and dress reformer, was born in Connecticut but raised in Moravia, New York. Little is known about her parentage or early life. At age twenty-six she enrolled in the first class of the coeducational American Hydropathic Institute operated by ...


Bissell, Emily Perkins (1861-1948), volunteer social worker and author  

Carol Hoffecker

Bissell, Emily Perkins (31 May 1861–08 March 1948), volunteer social worker and author, was born in Wilmington, Delaware, the daughter of Champion Aristarcus Bissell, a lawyer and banker, and Josephine Wales. Her forebears settled in Connecticut where her father, a Yale graduate, was reared. Her maternal grandfather, John Wales, served as a U.S. senator from Delaware from 1849 to 1851. Bissell was educated in Wilmington and at Miss Charlier’s School in New York City....


Blackwell, Elizabeth (1821-1910), physician, reformer, and medical educator  

Regina Morantz-Sanchez

Blackwell, Elizabeth (03 February 1821–31 May 1910), physician, reformer, and medical educator, was born in Bristol, England, daughter of Samuel Blackwell, a prosperous sugar refiner, and Hannah Lane. Her father’s interest in abolitionism and in “perfectionist reform,” the belief that through education and spiritual regeneration human beings could achieve a just society on earth, coupled with a series of financial reversals, prompted a move to the United States in 1832 when Elizabeth was eleven....


Buckel, C. Annette (1833-1912), physician, Civil War nurse, and mental health activist  

Sandra Varney MacMahon

Buckel, C. Annette (25 August 1833–17 August 1912), physician, Civil War nurse, and mental health activist, was born Cloe Annette Buckel in Warsaw, New York, the daughter of Thomas Buckel and his wife (given name unknown), whose surname was Bartlett. Both parents died when Buckel, an only child, was three months old. Until the age of four she lived with her grandparents, and after they died she lived with two young aunts, neither of whom exhibited much warmth toward her. By age four Buckel had learned to read and write. Quickly outgrowing the local district school, she moved on to a more advanced one in a neighboring town. At age fourteen she started teaching school, boarding with her students’ parents, both in New York State and in Canada. While a youth she decided to become a physician. Financially unable to immediately begin formal medical school, she worked in a burnishing factory in Connecticut, living with her employer’s family, and studied Latin as she worked. By living simply and borrowing on a life insurance policy she had purchased, Buckel was able to enter the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1856. She later demonstrated the high regard she felt for the school by leaving it a bequest in her will....


Corson, Juliet (13 January 1841?–18 June 1897), founder of the New York Cooking School and pioneer in the scientific cookery movement  

Susan Matt

Corson, Juliet (13 January 1841?–18 June 1897), founder of the New York Cooking School and pioneer in the scientific cookery movement, was born in Mount Pleasant, Massachusetts, the daughter of Peter Ross Corson, a prosperous produce merchant, and Mary Ann Henderson. (Although most obituaries and biographical sources give Corson’s birth date as 1842, the Vital Records of Roxbury, Massachusetts, give the date as 1841.) Corson’s family moved to New York City when she was six years old. In New York her uncle, Alfred Upham, helped to raise her and provided her with a classical education. She began to support herself in her late teens after her mother’s death....


Daniel, Annie Sturges (1858-1944), physician and public health reformer  

Marilyn Elizabeth Perry

Daniel, Annie Sturges (21 September 1858–10 August 1944), physician and public health reformer, was born in Buffalo, New York, the daughter of John M. Daniel, a coal and wood merchant, and Marinda Sturges. Both of her parents died while Annie was still a young child, and she was subsequently sent to Monticello, New York, to live with relatives. Curiosity about biology and anatomy led her to enroll in the Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary, where she specialized in obstetrics, gynecology, and pediatrics. After receiving her M.D. in 1879, she worked as a pharmacist at the infirmary for a year before serving her internship. In 1881 Daniel was placed as the physician in charge of the Out-Practice Department, also known as the Tenement House Service, of the New York Infirmary. Assigned to this department by Dr. ...


Ford, Betty (1918-2011), first lady of the United States and public health advocate  

John Robert Greene

Ford, Betty (08 April 1918–08 July 2011), first lady of the United States and public health advocate, was born Elizabeth Ann Bloomer in Chicago, Illinois, the youngest of three children of William S. Bloomer, a traveling salesman, and Hortense Neahr Bloomer. She was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her father died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1934; at his funeral Betty learned from her mother that he had been an alcoholic. Starting dance lessons at age eight, Betty briefly thought of becoming a ballerina. However, she soon gravitated toward modern dance, which, after her 1936 graduation from high school, she studied at the Bennington School of Dance in Vermont. One of her instructors, the influential ...


Cover Ford, Betty (1918-2011)
Betty Ford. 1974. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-2019).


Gleason, Rachel Brooks (1820-1905), sectarian physician and health reformer  

Jane B. Donegan

Gleason, Rachel Brooks (27 November 1820–17 March 1905), sectarian physician and health reformer, was born in Winhall, Vermont; her parents’ names and occupations are unknown. She attended local schools, including Townsend Academy. In 1844, following a brief teaching stint, Rachel married Silas Orsemus Gleason, M.D., a recent graduate of Castleton Medical College; the couple had two children....


Greene, Cordelia Agnes (1831-1905), physician and health reformer  

Regina Morantz-Sanchez

Greene, Cordelia Agnes (05 July 1831–28 January 1905), physician and health reformer, was born in Lyons, New York, the eldest of five children of Jabez Greene and Phila Cooke. New England farmers and former Quakers turned Presbyterians, her parents settled in western New York along the banks of the Erie Canal shortly before her birth. Her father’s piety was matched only by his interest in progressive education, and his active role as a trustee in the local public school no doubt sparked his daughter’s lifelong concern with self-improvement. A serious student, she earned a teacher’s certificate from the county while still in her early teens....


Hamilton, Alice (1869-1970), physician  

Jacqueline Karnell Corn

Hamilton, Alice (27 February 1869–22 September 1970), physician, was born in New York City, the daughter of Montgomery Hamilton and Gertrude Pond. Her family resided in Fort Wayne, Indiana, dependent on an inherited fortune. Because her parents did not believe in conventional education, Alice and her siblings did not attend school. They were taught by both parents. She had two years of formal education before entering the University of Michigan Medical School. After that, a long period of professional training and deep feelings of social commitment prepared her for work in occupational health. The professional training was an accomplishment for a woman of her generation. She received the M.D. from the University of Michigan in 1893, then spent two months as an intern in the Hospital for Women and Children in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and nine months at the New England Hospital for Women and Children near Boston. She was then advised that if she wished to pursue a career in bacteriology and pathology, study in Germany was necessary to make her an expert. She went to Germany to study at Leipzig and Munich for one year. The following year she studied at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore....


Haupt, Alma Cecilia (1893-1956), public health nursing leader  

Diana Hamilton

Haupt, Alma Cecilia (19 March 1893–15 March 1956), public health nursing leader, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, the daughter of Charles Edgar Haupt, an Episcopal minister, and Alexandra Dougan. As the young sister of four brothers, Haupt described her childhood as a “tomboy existence tempered with exposure to the cultural and religious life” of her prominent St. Paul family. After completion of secondary education at West High School in St. Paul, she entered the Liberal Arts College at the University of Minnesota in 1911 and graduated four years later with a bachelor’s degree in physical education. After working for a year as a playground instructor in St. Paul and a social worker in Minneapolis, Haupt searched for a career that would provide her with mobility and, consequently, enrolled in the University of Minnesota School of Nursing. Upon graduation in 1919, she accepted a nursing position with the Minneapolis Visiting Nurse Association (MVNA), and within three years she became its nursing superintendent (1922–1924). Years later, Haupt recalled that the MVNA tasks of supervising home care and establishing a public health course for university nursing students were instrumental in directing her lifelong commitment to nursing’s critical role in the public’s health....


Jean, Sally Lucas (1878-1971), health educator and nurse  

Shari Rudavsky

Jean, Sally Lucas (18 June 1878–05 July 1971), health educator and nurse, was born in Towson, Maryland, the daughter of George Jean, a teacher, and Emilie Watkins Selby. Her mother was a devout Episcopalian from the South, while her father, who had fought for the northern troops during the Civil War, had been raised in a Presbyterian family. Jean, the youngest of their three children, had two experiences early in life that led her to dream of a nursing career. A close friend died of diphtheria, and shortly after that Jean played Florence Nightingale in a school play. Learning of Nightingale’s life-saving heroics, Jean resolved to follow in her footsteps. When Jean was fifteen her father died and she told her family of her desire to become a nurse. They urged her to become a teacher instead like her father. Obligingly she entered the Maryland State Normal School, from which she graduated in 1896....


Kenny, Elizabeth (1880-1952), nurse and developer of a treatment for poliomyelitis (infantile paralysis)  

Diana Kenney Annis

Kenny, Elizabeth (20 September 1880–30 November 1952), nurse and developer of a treatment for poliomyelitis (infantile paralysis), nurse and developer of a treatment for poliomyelitis (infantile paralysis), was born in Warialda, New South Wales, Australia, the daughter of Michael Kenny and Mary Moore, homesteaders. Kenny’s family moved frequently during her childhood, and her education was scattered and limited. At the age of eighteen she zealously taught herself the principles of anatomy and muscle function with the help of a surgeon friend, Aeneas John McDonnell, in order to help her brother William strengthen his frail frame through calisthenics....


Kenyon, Josephine Hemenway (1880-1965), pediatrician and health educator  

Donald L. Opitz

Kenyon, Josephine Hemenway (10 May 1880–10 January 1965), pediatrician and health educator, was born in Auburn, New York, the daughter of Charles Carroll Hemenway, a Presbyterian minister, and Ida Eliza Shackelford. When Kenyon was eleven, the family moved to Glasgow, Missouri, where her father accepted a position as president of Pritchett College. Later she studied at Pritchett, receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1898 and a master’s degree the following year....


Lakey, Alice (1857-1935), pure-food crusader  

James Harvey Young

Lakey, Alice (14 October 1857–18 June 1935), pure-food crusader, was born in Shanesville, Ohio, the daughter of Charles D. Lakey, a clergyman and, later, an insurance publicist, and Ruth Jaques, who died when Alice was six. The next year her father married Emily Jane Jackson, a painter. After public and private schooling in Chicago, Lakey, with her stepmother, went abroad in 1879 and studied “the art of singing in the old Italian method” in Florence, Paris, and London. Lakey gave concerts in England, where critics complimented her “sympathetic mezzo-soprano voice” and “refined and unaffected manner.” Returning to America in 1888, Lakey gave a few performances, but poor health prevented a concert career, although she taught voice for several years. In 1895 the family moved to Cranford, New Jersey....


Mendenhall, Dorothy Reed (1874-1964), physician and public health educator  

Regina Morantz-Sanchez

Mendenhall, Dorothy Reed (22 September 1874–31 July 1964), physician and public health educator, was born in Columbus, Ohio, the daughter of Grace Kimball and William Pratt Reed, a wealthy shoe manufacturer. Although Mendenhall’s father died when she was six, the family was left comfortably well-off, and Mendenhall received an upper-class education at home, including instruction by a governess and frequent European travel....


Merrick, Myra King (1825-1899), physician and educator  

Anne Taylor Kirschmann

Merrick, Myra King (15 August 1825–10 November 1899), physician and educator, was born in Hinckley, Leicestershire, England, the daughter of Richard King, a brickmaker, and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). In 1826 the family emigrated to the United States and settled in Taunton, Massachusetts. At the age of eight, Myra began working in Taunton’s textile mills, helping to support a family that now numbered five children. In 1841 the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where she secured employment as a nurse to several physicians in the area and developed an interest in medicine as a profession. After her marriage to builder and machinist Charles H. Merrick in 1848, the couple moved to Connecticut, where she began the study of medicine under New Haven physicians Eli Ives, professor of theory and practice of medicine at Yale University, and his obstetrician son, Levi Ives....


Packard, Elizabeth Parsons Ware (1816-1897), mental health reformer  

Constance M. McGovern

Packard, Elizabeth Parsons Ware (28 December 1816–25 July 1897), mental health reformer, was born in Ware, Massachusetts, the daughter of Samuel Ware, a minister, and Lucy Parsons. Although her family moved from town to town in western Massachusetts during her childhood, she received an education at the Amherst Female Seminary in classics, literature, and mathematics that prepared her to teach in a number of local private schools by the age of sixteen. At nineteen, she suffered from what was then called “brain fever,” and her symptoms of violent headaches and visionary-like trances led to her commitment at the new public asylum for the insane in Worcester, Massachusetts. Within six weeks, the asylum superintendent discharged her as cured. Three years later, she married Theophilus Packard, a renowned minister of the Congregational church in nearby Shelburne; they had six children....


Pennington, Mary Engle (1872-1952), food-processing chemist  

Elizabeth Noble Shor

Pennington, Mary Engle (08 October 1872–27 December 1952), food-processing chemist, was born in Nashville, Tennessee, the daughter of Henry Pennington and Sarah B. Molony. Soon after her birth the family moved to West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where her father set up a label-making business. Mary enjoyed gardening, which was a hobby of her father, and at the age of twelve she became interested in medical chemistry after reading a library book about it. Her parents were surprised but supportive. In 1890 she entered the Towne Scientific School of the University of Pennsylvania as a special student (because she was a woman). The school gave her a certificate of proficiency in 1892, when she completed the work for a B.S., but they refused her the degree, which was only offered to men. Under a university rule for “extraordinary cases,” Pennington was allowed to continue studying at the University of Pennsylvania for a Ph.D. in chemistry, which she received in 1895. She held a fellowship there in chemical botany for two years and then a fellowship in physiological chemistry at Yale University for another year....