Category Archives: Empowered Women

Facts About Florence Nightingale – Empowered Woman of Medicine (Part 2)

(Continued from 5/6/2018 Read Part 1 here.)

She became the “Angel of the Crimea”

1853 marked the beginning of the Crimean War. Allied with Turkey, the British and French joined the effort to prohibit the expansion of Russia. The sick and wounded troops were sent to Scutari, a city near Constantinople (Istanbul.) London Times correspondent William Howard Russell wrote articles depicting the horrendous disorganization of the hospitals. The British public demanded that their soldiers receive better treatment.

Sidney Herbert, called back to his position as Secretary of War for the British Government, called on Florence Nightingale to lead a group of nurses to Scutari. She gathered a party of 38 working nurses and traveled to Scutari where she would set up shop at the Barrack Hospital in 1854. What she found appalled her. Overcrowding, filthy conditions, a lack of supplies, and an uncooperative staff needed her immediate attention and talents. At first, the medical officers and army surgeons thwarted her attempts, but when injured soldiers from the Battle of Balaklava and the Battle of Inkerman flooded the hospital beyond capacity, they had no choice but to give Florence her way.

She revolutionized nursing

Nightingale set to work making reforms at Scutari. She reached out to the London Times for aid and obtained the funds for necessary medical supplies. She had the wards cleaned and created a laundry with the help of the soldiers’ wives to provide clean linens and bandages for the sick and wounded. Florence insisted on patients receiving baths, clean clothing, and adequate nutrition. The nurses were instructed to help the soldiers write letters home to aid in their psychological healing. Nightingale herself kept a vigilant watch day and night on her wards and became known as the “Lady of the Lamp” due to her nighttime rounds.

Nightingale’s reforms reduced the mortality rate at Scutari to less than 2 percent. Word of this got back home to England and Nightingale became a celebrity.

She affected positive change

After Florence returned to England, her legacy lived on. Nightingale was not only instrumental in reforming hospital care throughout England and the world through her works and her writing, she also established training for district nursing, where patients could receive adequate care at home. In 1855, she established the Nightingale Fund, and in 1860, she founded the Nightingale School of Nursing at St. Thomas Hospital in London. She was also instrumental in the forming of a school for midwives at King’s College Hospital in London.

Based on Nightingale’s statistical data (she developed the Coxcomb chart which assessed mortality rates) a Royal Commission was sent to India to examined health conditions there, and major reforms were established.

She received the highest honors

King Edward honored Florence with the esteemed Order of Merit, making her the first woman in history to receive it. She also received the title “Lady of Grace” from the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. In 1907, Queen Victoria presented Nightingale with an engraved brooch that later became known as the “Nightingale Jewel.” She also granted her $250,000 to continue her legacy.

She is part of present-day nursing program graduation and pinning ceremonies today

Florence Nightingale is still an important figure in the medical community today. At many nursing programs and schools the “Nightingale Pledge” is recited, followed by a “lighting ceremony.” Candles or lamps are used to signify the “lamp of knowledge” and also pay tribute to Nightingale herself, the “lady of the lamp.”

Nightingale Pledge, (1935 version)

“I solemnly pledge myself before God and in the presence of this assembly, to pass my life in purity and to practice my profession faithfully. I will abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous, and will not take or knowingly administer any harmful drug. I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession and will hold in confidence all personal matters committed to my keeping, and all family affairs coming to my knowledge in the practice of my calling. With loyalty will I endeavor to aid the physician in his work, and as a ‘missioner of health’ I will dedicate myself to devoted service to human welfare.

Called “the Lady of the Lamp” and the “Angel of the Crimea,” Florence Nightingale forever changed the face medical care in England and around the world. Her works and her legacy live on in history and are still relevant today. She was a woman who listened to her calling, knew her truth, and remained steadfast to her purpose until the end of her life.

In 1910, at age 90, Nightingale died in her sleep.

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Facts About Florence Nightingale – Empowered Woman of Medicine (Part 1)

She was Named for the city of her birth

Born to William Edward and Frances Nightingale in 1920, Florence, and her older sister were both named after the cities of their birth. While on an extended honeymoon that lasted a few years, the couple gave birth to Frances Parthenope while they toured Parthenope, Italy, a Greek settlement which is now part of Naples, Italy. Shortly thereafter, they welcomed their second daughter into the world, whom we know now as the mother of modern nursing, Florence, while in Florence, Italy.

She came from inherited wealth

Florence’s father came into the world as William Edward Shore. In 1815, upon his great-uncle’s death, he inherited the family estate and changed his name to Nightingale. The family split their time between two grand homes in Embley, Hampshire and Lea Hurst, Derbyshire. They also spent the social season in London. As most wealthy girls in Victorian England, Florence was expected to marry a man of equal or greater wealth, live a luxurious life, produce children, and run the household. Florence knew early on her destiny lay elsewhere.

She was highly educated

Precocious as a child, Florence excelled in mathematics and languages. At a young age, she became fluent in French, German, Italian, Greek and Latin. Not only could she speak the languages, she could also read and write in these languages. Florence’s father took delight in his daughter’s intellect and encourage her education. He supported her in all of her studies including history, philosophy, and literature.

She felt “called” to her profession 

As a young girl, Florence felt called by God to help people. She often took care of the sick and injured wherever the family lived. 

Like many wealthy, educated, upper-class young adults, Florence embarked on several tours to finish out her education. While on these tours, she wrote about her experiences. She traveled to Greece and Egypt where she wrote of “spiritual grandeur,” and of being called to “do good for him [God] alone and without reputation.”

She became a published writer at 30 years of age

In 1950 she traveled to Germany where she visited a Lutheran community. The trip proved life-changing for her. She witnessed Pastor Theodor Fliedner and his assistant deaconesses serving the sick and deprived. In 1851 she wrote The Institution of Kaiserswerth on the Rhine for the Practical Training of Deaconesses and published it anonymously.

Her most famous literary contribution is her Notes on Nursing, What It Is and What It Is Not. It has been in continuous publication worldwide since 1859.

She rejected an exemplary marriage proposal after a 9-year courtship

As a wealthy, attractive, and charming young woman, Florence had the makings of a beneficial wife. She had several suitors, but the most ardent of them was Richard Monckton Milnes who pursued her for nine years. While she might have had mutual feelings for the politician who also had a romantic side and was an accomplished poet, Florence rejected him. She felt marriage and childbearing would interfere with her calling to nursing.

She knew influential people and was well connected

While traveling in Rome, Florence met Sidney Herbert, the former Secretary of War for the British government, while on his honeymoon. Nightingale, Herbert, and his wife became lifelong friends. Her friendship with Herbert would change her life and put her in the history books. She would later serve as his key advisor throughout the rest of his political career. She also became friendly with the influential theologian Benjamin Jowett who was Master of Balliol College at Oxford University

 She Said Yes to Her Calling

Although Florence’s family had reservations about her calling to nursing, they eventually accepted it. Florence enrolled at the Institution of Protestant Deaconesses at Kaiserswerth in Germany. There she learned hospital administration and basic nursing skills. Later she became the superintendent of the Institution for Sick Gentlewomen in Distressed Services in London. There she honed her skills as an administrator. She realized she had a talent for organization and leadership and intended to apply for the superintendent of nurses position at King’s College Hospital in London. Instead, she received another call. (Continued next week!)

 

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Roxelena and Her Rise to Power – Witchcraft or Love? (Part 2)

(Continued from 4/22/18, find Part One here.)

Mustafa, the eldest of all the Suleiman’s sons, was next in line to rule. According to Ottoman Imperial custom, when a Sultan came into power, he had his brothers killed, to ensure the stability of the empire. Some believed that Roxelena, with the help of the grand vizier Rustem Pasha, and fearing for the safety of her own sons, influenced the Sultan against Mustafa.

Suleiman's Harem

Previously, one of Mustafa’s supporters, a commander in Suleiman’s army and later his grand vizier, Ibrahim Pasha, suffered execution at the hands of Suleiman. Although Ibrahim committed several grievances against the Sultan, many thought Roxelena, through her influence, encouraged his execution to make way for her own sons.

Several years later, Suleiman selected Roxelena’s son-in-law, Damat Rustem Pasha to become grand vizier. It soon became clear that a rivalry between the Sultan’s sons had surfaced and could not be ignored. In 1553, according to some accounts, Rustem circulated a rumor that Mustafa planned to dethrone his father. That same year, Suleiman had Mustafa executed for treason. Some, including Mahidrevan, believed Roxelena conspired with Rustem to slander Mustafa.

Suleiman soon dismissed Rustem as his grand vizier and appointed Kara Ahmed. Two years later, Kara Ahmed was killed at Suleiman’s behest. People believed Roxelena wanted her son-in-law, Rustem, back in power as grand vizier.

Suleiman's Bedroom

Although the stories of Roxelena’s evil doings have survived over the centuries, none of them are substantiated by evidence. Rumors and gossip of the time and embellished authorial accounts paint Roxelena in a negative light. We will never know if she had anything to do with these executions or not. I suppose the fact that a female slave rising to such influential power in the Ottoman Empire of the sixteenth century was so uncommon it would give cause to the idea she did so by dubious means.

However, Roxelena’s legacy survives. She has inspired artists, authors, musicians, and dancers throughout history and throughout the world. She gives proof that anything can happen—even the most unlikely scenario, like a slave becoming a queen.

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Roxelena and Her Rise to Power – Witchcraft or Love? (Part One)

It is not common in history for a slave to become an empowered ruler, much less a female slave. But, that is what happened with Roxelena, who became one of the most powerful and influential women in Ottoman history. What is common is when a person does rise to power in any empire or kingdom, it is often fraught with controversy. This, too, holds true for Roxelena, as she influenced and changed the fate of women of the Ottoman empire’s harems and beyond.

In 2009, my father and I took a tour of some of the cities surrounding the Black Sea. In Istanbul, we visited Suleiman’s palace and took a tour of the rooms of his royal harem. It was then I first learned of Roxelena, an unlikely empowered woman—a slave girl–who came to incredible power in a land and at a time where women had no power at all.

Roxelena’s birth name is unknown, but some historians claim her birth name to be Aleksandra Lisovska, and she might have been born to an Orthodox priest and his wife, in 1502-1505. Her family lived in the town of Rohatyn, part the Polish Kingdom, now known as western Ukraine.

In the early 1520’s, Crimean Tatars raided young Aleksandra’s town and kidnapped her, as they often did with Christian girls. They took her to Istanbul to sell her into the slave trade. Hasfa Sultan, wife of Salim I, and mother of Suleiman the Magnificent purchased Aleksandra for her son’s growing harem. Aleksandra had to forsake her Christian religion and to convert to Islam. She was educated in the Arabic, Persian, and Turkish languages, and schooled in the art of lovemaking.

Historians agree Aleksandra was about fifteen years of age when she became Suleiman’s concubine, around the time he came into power as Sultan. Aleksandra then became known as Hurrem, or “cheerful one” for her sunny disposition and cheerful nature. The name Roxelena came later from the Europeans, in reference to her Ruthenian roots.

As one of Suleiman’s two hundred concubines, it might have taken a girl a long time to get noticed by the Sultan, but not Roxelena. She quickly became his favorite, and a life-long love affair began—much to the disappointment and resentment of the other concubines, particularly Mahidevran, the previous favorite. A rivalry developed between the two women.

Roxelena
(ko.wikipedia.org)

Ottoman Imperial custom dictated that when a concubine gave birth to a son, she was elevated in status, but removed from the Sultan’s bed. This prevented undue influence over the Sultan and also prevented future feuds between the concubines’ sons for the crown. But when Roxelena gave birth to her son, Mehmed, Sulieman kept her close to him, in direct defiance of Imperial custom. As his most favored concubine, not only did Roxelena remain in Sulieman’s bedroom, but she bore him four or five other children.

Suleiman’s subjects did not know what to make of this affront to a hundreds-year-old tradition, so they surmised it must be witchcraft on Roxelena’s part. Suleiman further mystified his subjects when he married Roxelena—something else a Sultan rarely did. Any son a sultan bore became an heir, so marriage was unnecessary, especially marriage to a slave. In marrying Roxelena, it meant she became a free woman.

Suleiman's Harem
Suleiman’s Harem

Roxelena and Suleiman had a marriage based on love and mutual respect. When separated by travel and the responsibilities of the Sultanate, they wrote many love letters and poems to one another. Suleiman also consulted with Roxelena on matters of state. She corresponded with the King of Poland and other important world leaders on the Sultan’s behalf. Having access to the Sultan’s riches, she used the money to build mosques, schools, baths, and a hospital.

Despite a happy marriage and the privilege of power, Roxelena also experienced her share of controversy. Not only did the Sultan’s subjects believe Roxelena had bewitched him, they also believed she was instrumental in the assassination of several rivals to the throne. The most prominent being Mustafa, the son of the Sultan’s former favorite, Mahidevran. (To be continued next week.)

 

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Nellie Bly – Mad, Committed, or Both? (Part One)

In fact, Nellie Bly was not mad. She was, however, “committed”–in more ways than one.

(TodayFoundOut.com)

Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in 1864, Nellie, as she was known after she became a journalist, always had a deep sense of morality and a desire to help those who could not help themselves.

Perhaps this stemmed from her own hardships as a young girl. Nellie’s father, Michael Cochran, owned and ran a successful mill in Cochran, Pennsylvania. However, when he died six years after Nellie was born, the family could no longer make ends meet and her mother, Mary Jane, moved her children to Pittsburgh. Due to the family’s financial situation, young Elizabeth had to give up her education to help her mother run the boarding house she had purchased for her family’s survival.

Although she had to quit school as a youngster, Nellie had a gift for writing. Especially when something piqued her interest. At eighteen years old, after reading a column in the Pittsburgh Dispatch that insinuated a woman’s place is in the home, bearing children and keeping house, Elizabeth wrote a rebuttal under the name “The Lonely Orphan,” and sent it to the editor. To her surprise, the editor not only published the rebuttal but offered her a job as a columnist. It was then she took the pen name, Nellie Bly, after a popular Stephen Foster song.

Nellie wrote for the Pittsburgh Dispatch for several years. She wrote about the lives of working women, particularly women factory workers. However, the newspaper received complaints from factory owners and the editor reassigned her to cover fashion, society, and gardening. Frustrated with these assignments, Nellie left the Dispatch and traveled to Mexico to serve as a foreign correspondent. There, she wrote articles reporting on the customs of the Mexican people. When a fellow journalist wrote an article criticizing the Mexican government, he was thrown in jail. Nellie protested with her own writings and the Mexican authorities threatened her with arrest. She had to leave the country.

Bly moved to New York City in 1886. She took a while to find work, but in 1887, she submitted a story idea concerning the immigrant experience in the U.S. to the editor of the New York World, one of the countries leading newspapers, owned by Joseph Pulitzer. The editor turned down her idea but challenged her to go undercover for a different story. A story to expose the abusive treatment of mental patients on nearby Blackwell’s Island, an insane asylum for women.

Bly rose to the challenge.

But she had to be convincingly crazy. To do this, she stopped bathing and brushing her hair. She practiced looking like a lunatic in the mirror. She checked herself into a temporary boarding house for women under the name “Nellie Moreno” and immersed herself deeper into her role. For twenty-four hours, she yelled and screamed at the other tenants, she snarled, she pulled at her hair. She later wrote, “It was the greatest night of my life.”

As she’d hoped, the police took her away and soon she was declared hopelessly insane. Local newspapers wrote about the “mysterious waif with the wild, hunted look in her eyes.” After a few days at the Bellevue Hospital’s psychiatric ward, Bly ended up at Blackwell’s Island. (To be continued)

 

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Henry and Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn – Did She or Didn’t She? (Part One)

 

Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn
Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn in The Tudors

Anne Boleyn. Everyone knows her name. Countless books, movies, and documentary films have been written and made about the life of this fascinating woman in history, and her relationship with Henry VIII of England.

But, one of the mysteries surrounding her—which included witchcraft and plotting to kill the King—contributed to the tragic end of this young queen. Her alleged infidelity. Known throughout her life as an incurable flirt, did she betray King Henry by sleeping with other men? And, was she so desperate to give the King a son, that she slept with her own brother in the hopes of getting pregnant?

The actual birthdate of Anne Boleyn is not known. Historians speculate that she was born sometime between 1501 and 1507. Her sister Mary is reported to have been older and her brother George, a few years her junior. Born to Thomas Boleyn and Lady Elizabeth Howard, a couple of the highest nobility, Anne received the finest education and training.

In her youth, she lived in the Netherlands where she received the basic academic education of noble children as well as falconry, archery, dancing, and household management. Her parents then sent her to live in France to attend Queen Mary, Henry VIII’s older sister. While in France she continued her education and also became fluent in the art and study of literature, fashion, religion, flirtation, and courtly love.

In 1522, Sir Thomas brought his daughter home to marry her cousin James Butler, but the marriage did not go through. Anne, now a lady of the court, dazzled people with her brilliance, beauty, and charm. She soon became enamored with Henry Percy, the son of the Earl of Northumberland, and the two became secretly engaged. Henry’s father was not in favor of the match, so broke off the engagement, and Anne went to soothe her wounds at her family’s countryside estate.

After some period of time, she returned to court and entered into the service of Queen Catherine, the Spanish wife of Henry VIII. It didn’t take long for the King to notice the young woman who shined like a diamond in his court. Unlike many women of the court, including her older sister Mary, Anne did not give in to the King’s demands to become his mistress. She kept him enticed for seven years, supposedly not ever consummating the relationship, until their eventual marriage—or shortly before.

The seven years of their courtship proved agonizing for Henry. During that period, he attempted to receive an annulment from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon on the grounds that their marriage was illegitimate and an affront to God, due to their inability to have a son. Before Henry, Catherine had been married to his older brother Arthur. Shortly after they wed, Arthur died before they could consummate their nuptials. Henry didn’t have a problem with this when he married Catherine, it was only after he fell in love with the tantalizing Anne that he decided his marriage to Catherine was sinful, and that he was being punished by his inability to produce a male heir.

Anne, eager to be Queen, but cunning enough to hold Henry at bay until she had a crown, did all she could to intensify the situation. Henry gave her the power to grant petitions, receive important diplomats to her court, and proved to be instrumental in solidifying an alliance with France. She was Queen, albeit without the title, and Henry placed her above all the courtly peers and noblemen. Her father became the Earl of Wiltshire, and her Irish cousin, the Earl of Ormond. Her sister, Mary, one of Henry’s early conquests and mistresses, now a widow, received a generous pension. Mary’s son, reputed to be Henry’s son, received the finest education.

Finally, when they did not receive permission from Rome to have Henry’s marriage to Catherine annulled, Henry—determined to have Anne—broke with the church and declared himself head of the Church of England. They married in secret and Anne soon became pregnant. Four months later, Cranmer, the new Archbishop of Canterbury declared Henry and Catherine’s marriage null and void, and Henry’s marriage to Anne valid.

While popular in the English court when she was attending to Queen Catherine, Anne did not have the same luck with the King’s subjects who remained steadfast in Catherine’s corner. Catherine, stripped of her title and banished from court lived the rest of her days a sad and lonely woman. Although Henry gave Anne a magnificent coronation at Westminster Abbey, the English people showed no love for their new queen, and many referred to her as “the King’s whore.”

But, Anne took comfort in the fact that she carried the King’s child. Both Henry and Anne believed with all of their being that the child would be a boy. When Anne gave birth to a girl, Henry was devastated. He had the celebratory traditional joust and celebration he’d planned for the birth of his child canceled. The couple consoled themselves with the idea that Anne would be pregnant again soon, and this time it would be a boy… (to be continued)

 

Lozen Women Empowered in History

Empowered Women of the Southwest – Lozen, Apache Warrior Woman (Part 2)

(continued from last week’s post. Find it here.)

After Victorio’s attempts to obtain permission for his people to return to the Mescalero Reservation failed, he and Lozen took action. They encouraged their people to flee in different directions. Lozen took charge of a group of women and children and headed to Mexico. When they approached the Rio Grande, swollen with the season’s earlier rainfall, many of the women and children did not want to cross. Lozen took the lead. With her rifle raised above her head, she struck the shoulder of her horse with her foot and they plunged into the water, swimming upstream through the raging river. Impressed by her bravery, the group followed her to safety. Knowing they had reached safety, Lozen went back across the river to find her brother and their band of warriors.

They traveled to Chihuahua, Mexico. Hoping to gather more ammunition and Apache warriors, Lozen left Victorio and his band to travel back to the Mescalero Reservation with the U.S. and Mexican cavalries on her heels. She took with her a young pregnant woman who wanted to return to her family. On the way, the young woman went into labor. Fearing capture from the Mexican or U.S. Armies, Lozen hid the woman in the brush and delivered her baby. Because of their delay, they ran out of food. Lozen, using her knife, single-handedly killed a longhorn and butchered it. When the woman could travel a few days later, Lozen, stole two horses and other supplies they needed to return to Tularosa.

Once they’d arrived, Lozen learned that Mexican forces had ambushed her brother. It is believed among the Apaches that instead of being taken hostage and killed at his enemies’ hands, Victorio committed suicide.

After Victorio’s death, Lozen returned to the San Carlos Reservation with chief Nana, only to leave again in 1882 where they joined forces with Geronimo. Together they raided the San Carlos Reservation and freed over 600 people. Lozen and Geronimo again raided San Carlos in early 1885–the last campaign of the Apache wars. Later in 1885, Geronimo negotiated an Apache surrender with the U.S. Government. Unable to come to terms, the Apaches spent several more months running from U.S. and Mexican forces until they ran out of ammunition and supplies. Geronimo surrendered and he, Lozen, and approximately 40 others, including another renown Chiricahua woman warrior, Dahaste, became prisoners of war and were hauled off to a concentration camp in Florida. In 1887, Lozen was later transferred to Alabama where she died of tuberculosis at 50 years of age.

Sources:

http://newmexicohistory.org

http://crestoneeagle.com

https://southernarizonaguide.com

Empowered Women of the West – Dr. Nellie MacKnight (Part Two)

Dr. Nellie MacKnight (continued) For Part One click here.

The day after Olive’s funeral, Nellie was sent to live with her father’s brother and his wife in New York. While she got on well with her Uncle, his wife resented Nellie’s presence and made the fact well known to her. After two years of suffering verbal abuse from her Uncle’s wife, Nellie opted to go live with her mother’s sister, Mary until her father finally sent for her to live with him in the community of Bishop in Owens Valley, CA. He’d given up on his dreams of gold and returned to his career as a surveyor. Nellie was 14 years old and had not seen her father in nearly ten years.

Although her father still possessed the same sternness she remembered as a small child, Smith made an effort to reacquaint himself with his daughter. He enrolled her at the Inyo Academy, a boarding school, and when he wasn’t traveling for work, came to visit Nellie often. He took her on weekend fishing trips and taught her about the outdoors and how to survive in the wilderness. Finally, Nellie had the father she’d so longed for, and all to herself—until he broke the news that he was to remarry.

When Smith and his new wife returned from their honeymoon, they moved into a house near Nellie’s school and she moved in with them. With his new marriage, it seemed that Smith’s previous sternness turned to suspicion and possessiveness, and he never let Nellie attend dances or any kind of social event. Any fears Nellie might have had about her new stepmother were quickly squelched as Nellie found her to be a refuge from her father’s controlling ways. The two got along famously.

Nellie loved school and again excelled at her studies. At the age of 17 she graduated as valedictorian of her class. Exceedingly proud of his daughter, Smith insisted that Nellie go to college. Nellie was thrilled at the prospect of pursuing her dreams of an education in literature. But, that was not to be. Her father would not pay for an education in anything but law or medicine. Nellie knew not to contradict her father. And, after thinking about it—and remembering her grandmother and uncle’s death from typhoid—decided that medicine might be the right path for her.

Accompanied by her father, Nellie left for San Francisco to attend school at Toland Hall Medical College. He got her settled and returned home. While leaving her father and stepmother behind caused Nellie some distress, she quickly realized that she would soon be free from her father’s restrictive discipline. However, the reception she received at Toland Hall was less than warm and inviting. As one of only three women in the school, Nellie faced prejudice and resentment from the other students and professors. One of her professors, Dr. R. Beverley Cole, believed “that there are six to eight ounces less brain matter in the female. Which shows how handicapped she is.”

But, Nellie rose above the discrimination and chauvinism and graduated with honors. She had her name printed on her diploma as “Helen M. MacKnight,” at the suggestion of the school Dean, whose respect Nellie finally earned. He advised her that using the name “Helen” would give her more credibility in the world than Nellie.

Nellie went on to intern at the Pacific Dispensary for Women and Children, a hospital founded by three female doctors. In 1893, she joined the staff and specialized in working with children. She also assisted with obstetrics, disease research, and surgeries, including amputation. Two years later, her stepmother fell ill and Nellie had to return home. Her stepmother recovered under Nellie’s constant care, and instead of returning to the dispensary, Nellie decided to set up her own practice in the front room of her parents’ home.

Women with horse and buggy 1895 (Vintage Everyday)

Dr. Helen MacKnight soon became lovingly referred to as “Dr. Nellie” as she made her rounds about town and in the nearby mining camps in her small buggy pulled by two sturdy horses. As her reputation and financial situation improved, she eventually moved her practice out of her parents’ home.

In 1898 Nellie met her husband, Dr. Guy Doyle, another physician in the area. Unlike the other male doctors Nellie encountered in school, Doyle treated Nellie with admiration and respect. They fell in love and decided to go into practice together. They treated patients in Owens County until World War I when Dr. Doyle answered the call to service. After the war, Nellie and Guy moved to the Berkeley Hills where Nellie practiced anesthesiology at the University of California Hospital. In 1934, Nellie realized her childhood dreams of becoming an author and published her autobiography titled A Child Went Forth. The book was later retitled, Dr. Nellie.

 

Roses of the West, by Anne Seagrave

Enss, Chriss. “Wild Women Wednesday: Dr. Nellie Mattie MacKnight.” Cowgirl Magazine. October 19, 2016, https://cowgirlmagazine.com/wild-women-wednesday-dr-nellie-mattie-macknight/

 

Empowered Women of the West – Dr. Nellie MacKnight (Part One)

Women studying medicine at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1892.
Cowgirlmagazine.com

San Francisco 1891

“Subjects, bodies for dissection, were divided into five parts—the head, two uppers and two lowers. By some ironical twist of circumstance, the first dissection assigned to me was a lower. The dissection of the pelvic organs was to be done in company with the young man who was assigned to the other lower. It was a male subject.

 … It came time for the quiz section in anatomy. The quizmaster was a dapper young graduate, much impressed with himself and his authority. He was of the group who hated the incursion of women into what he considered the distinctly masculine territory of medicine…The quizmaster walked over to our dissecting table.

 “Why has nothing been done on your subject?” he questioned.

 The young man hesitated, glancing at me.

 The quizmaster turned on me. “Have you the other lower on this subject?” His words were like a steel file.

 “Yes,” I replied, the blood rushing to my face.

 “Do you expect to graduate in medicine, or are you just playing around with the idea?”

 “I hope to graduate.” I tried to make my voice sound firm, but instead, I realized it sounded ridiculously weak and feminine…

“If you have any feelings of delicacy in this matter, young woman, you had better leave college and take them with your, or fold them away in your work basket and be here, on your stool, tomorrow morning. We don’t put up with any hysterical feminine nonsense in men’s medical schools.”

This, from the autobiography of Dr. Nellie MacKnight, is an account of one of her earliest assignments at San Francisco’s Toland Hall Medical School. One of only three women in her class, this naïve, but bold young girl would go on to graduate with flying colors and become one of the West’s most beloved and respected doctors.

But, medicine was not the profession Nellie MacKnight ever thought she’d choose. In fact, it wasn’t her choice at all. . .at first.

Dr. Helen MacKnight Doyle
Rangeandriverbooks.com

In Petrolia, Pennsylvania in 1873, Nellie came into the world as one of three children born to Smith and Olive MacKnight. Her two siblings died shortly after their birth, leaving Nellie to grow up an only child to a stern father, and an over-protective mother who lavished her with attention. An expert seamstress, Olive loved to dress Nellie in beautiful dresses made with her own hands. Though he loved his wife and daughter, Smith, found his profession as a surveyor dull, and his life in Pennsylvania uninspired. He desired to move out West in search of gold and riches, and in 1878, did just that, leaving his wife and daughter in the care of his parents in New York. He promised once he’d made his riches, he would send for the two of them. He never did.

Nellie found life at her grandparent’s farm happy and fulfilling. From her grandfather, she learned about horses and how to care for animals. From her grandmother, she learned more domestic chores, and also how to make remedies for certain illnesses. Her mother, Olive, did not fare as well. News from her husband that he’d purchased a mine with great potential raised Olive’s spirits momentarily until he stated that he would not send for her and Nellie until the mine “paid off.”

Despondent over the news, Olive fell into a depression. Life became harder when typhoid took Nellie’s grandmother and her favorite uncle. Fearing for Nellie’s health, Olive made the decision to move the two of them to her father’s home in Madrid, Pennsylvania. In order to keep herself and Nellie clothed, and Nellie in school, she took a job at the Warner Brother’s Corset Factory as a seamstress. Nellie excelled at her studies, and took a particular interest in literature and hoped to, one day, become an author.

Long hours and tedious work at the corset factory took its toll on Olive. Letters from her husband telling her that the mine had still not yielded any gold further distressed her. To relieve her pain and the stress caused from supporting herself and her young daughter—and the continued absence of her husband—she turned to laudanum, a tincture of opium. One night, in her drug-induced euphoria, Olive decided to end it all and overdosed. She left a note for ten-year-old Nellie encouraging her to “be a brave girl. Do not cry for Mamma.”

(To be continued next week)

Sources:

Roses of the West, by Anne Seagrave

Enss, Chriss. “Wild Women Wednesday: Dr. Nellie Mattie MacKnight.” Cowgirl Magazine. October 19, 2016, https://cowgirlmagazine.com/wild-women-wednesday-dr-nellie-mattie-macknight/

 

Margaret (Molly) Brown – Unsinkable and Much More

Margaret Tobin Brown, a woman  immortalized in numerous movies, documentaries, and the Broadway musical “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” never considered herself anything more than a good citizen. Made famous by her heroic efforts during the sinking of the RMS Titanic, Mrs. Brown used her fame and fortune to better the world. But, even as a young woman, Margaret Brown did what she could to serve humanity. Here are some less known facts about one of America’s most memorable heroines.

SHE WAS NEVER KNOWN AS “MOLLY” DURING HER LIFETIME

Born  in 1867, Margaret Brown, known as “Maggie,” by friends and family, came into this world in 1867 to Irish Catholic immigrants John Tobin and Johanna Tobin. She became known as “Molly” with the success of the 1960 Broadway musical, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” decades after her death.

SHE CAME FROM MODEST ROOTS

Maggie spent her early years in a small cottage on Denkler Ally in Hannibal, Missouri. She never attended school but took lessons with her siblings in the home of her mother’s sister, Mary O’Leary. At 13, Maggie helped support her family by working at a tobacco factory for sometimes 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. At 19, she set out with her sister to Leadville, Colorado to visit their older brother Daniel, who had settled there. Maggie decided to stay and kept house for her brother. She also worked as a waitress and as a sales clerk in a dry-goods store.

Margaret Brown as a young womanTHOUGH SET ON MARRYING A RICH MAN, SHE MARRIED FOR LOVE

Maggie is quoted to say, “I wanted a rich man, but I loved Jim Brown…I decided that I’d be better off with a poor man whom I loved than with a wealthy one whose money attracted me.”

In church one Sunday, Maggie laid eyes on the tall and handsome mining engineer, James Joseph (also known as J.J.) Brown, and fell in love. At 19 years of age, she married the Irishman who was more than 10 years her senior, and the two set up house in a two-room cabin outside of Leadville.

SHE CAME INTO WEALTH OVER-NIGHT

Both Maggie and J.J. worked hard during their young married life. Intelligent and innovative, J.J. Brown rose to  manager, then superintendent for the Ibex Mining company and made a decent living. His innovation proved instrumental in developing a technique which allowed for mines to be built deeper into the earth. One such mine, Little Jonny, hit gold in 1893, producing tons of gold ore, and making the Browns and many others at the Ibex Mining company, instant millionaires.

 SHE ALWAYS SAW THE IMPORTANCE OF A CAUSE

Even before she lived a life of immense wealth, Maggie always did what she could to help others. As a young wife and mother, she organized soup kitchens and helped other mining families less fortunate than hers. She became involved in politics and spent her efforts in that arena working for better schools and health care for mining families. After her good fortune, she joined many political and charitable organizations and even made a run for Congress— though she had to drop out of the race. Women in Colorado did not even have the right to vote yet, and her chances of winning seemed impossible. Regardless, Maggie continued to work for causes concerning children, public health, food production, education and libraries, women’s suffrage, and animal rights.

She also worked to help establish a juvenile court system in Denver so that children and teens who committed crimes did not have to serve time in the adult population. She helped to establish the Denver Women’s Club, an organization devoted to providing art education in schools, and the development of school libraries.

Margaret Brown and Captain Rostron of the RMS Titanic
Maggie and Captain Rostron of the RMS Titanic

Having lived a lifetime of helping others, Maggie continued to do so even when her own life was at stake with the sinking of the Titanic. Once aboard Life Boat Six, Maggie, having put on several layers of clothing to shield herself from the frigid temperatures, shared her coat and more with those who had to escape with little to wear. Once they were safely aboard the Carpathia, the ship sent out to retrieve survivors, Maggie worked tirelessly to help her fellow passengers. She paid for telegrams to be sent to survivors’ friends and family, and she organized a ‘survivors fund’ for medical expenses and temporary lodging for those in need. She raised $10,000 before they reached the shores of New York.

FAME DID NOT CHANGE HER

Now famous for her magnanimous spirit and courage, Maggie continued to help with causes close to her heart. In 1913 coal miners in Ludlow, CO went on strike, resulting in a deadly skirmish between the National Guard and the miners. Nineteen people, including eleven children were killed in what became known as the Ludlow Massacre. Maggie sent first aid supplies, food, and clothing to the surviving miners. She sent funds to help settle the strike and investigate the massacre.

During the first world war, Maggie traveled to France with an American relief committee. There, she also worked with the Red Cross. When she returned to New York, Maggie devoted time and resources to help soldiers who’d been injured in the war. Her efforts resulted in France bestowing her with their most esteemed award, the French Legion of Honor.

SHE NEVER ATTENDED SCHOOL, BUT WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED STUDENT

As a young mother, Maggie saw to the education of her children, and herself. After completing her daily chores, she studied literature, piano, and took voice lessons. Later, she hired tutors to help her improve her grammar and writing skills. She traveled to New York to study literature, drama and foreign languages at the Carnegie Institute. She became proficient in five different languages which proved instrumental in helping the International survivors of the Titanic. More of Maggie’s interests included acting, yodeling, classical guitar and the Ukelele.

SHE NEVER CONSIDERED HERSELF A HEROINE

After the Titanic disaster, stories filled newspapers at home and abroad about the heroic efforts of Margaret Brown, but she did not want to be known as a heroine. “I did only the natural thing and not the heroic.” And that is how this amazing, strong and empowered woman, who set an example for everyone, lived her entire life.

Sources:

Wikipedia

Bold Women in Colorado History by Phyllis J. Perry