Saturday, March 14, 2009

History Anyone?

Martha Hughes Cannon ~ Photo courtesy Utah State Historical Society Digital Photo collection.
To commemorate women's history month, here are some insights about a few of Utah's healthcare pioneers. It turns out women have been active caregivers, teachers and policymakers since their early entry into the valley. Of course midwifery was absolutely essential!

In January 1868, LDS Church President, Brigham Young said,"The time has come for women to come forth as doctors in these valleys." He found the notion of male obstetricians treating Mormon women disquieting. His 10th wife agreed:
"We want sister physicians that can officiate in any capacity that the gentlemen are called upon to officiate," said Eliza Roxey Snow Smith Young, "and unless they educate themselves the gentlemen that are flocking in our midst will do it."

Patty Sessions, Early Midwife (photo courtesy

From A few Mormon women already had remarkable medical careers. Patty Bartlett Sessions, famous as the "Mother of Mormon Midwifery," delivered 3,997 babies in her career--and lost few of them.
Swiss convert Nette Anna Furrer Cardon graduated as a physician from Geneva Hospital and later studied at Leipzig and Constantinople before crossing the plains in 1856.
Women founded their first formal medical organization in Utah in 1851 as the Female Council of Health. It met at least twice a month at the home of Brigham Young's first mother-in-law.
At October conference in 1873, Brigham Young announced he was sending Utah women to eastern universities to train as physicians. Some of the most remarkable women in the territory answered the call, and the next fall Romania Pratt, widow of Apostle Parley P. Pratt, enrolled in the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania. Ellis Shipp joined her in 1875, working her way through school as a seamstress until graduation in 1883.
Her story: Ellis set out for Philadelphia on 10 November 1875, leaving behind her three small children in the care of her three sister-wives while she attended medical school on the advice of Brigham Young.
Despite financial difficulties and some doubts about her ability to complete the degree, Ellis passed her first-year examinations and returned home to Utah. She returned for her second year, pregnant and without money. By taking sewing jobs and guarding the hall of cadavers at night she earned enough to cover her tuition and living expenses. Her sixth child, a daughter, was born in the spring of her second year in Philadelphia, and mother and child did not return to Utah until after her third year, when she graduated with high honors and a Doctor of Medicine degree.
Back home in Utah, Ellis established her own practice and during her career delivered more than 5,000 children. The School of Nursing and Obstetrics, which she founded in 1879, trained five hundred women who became licensed midwives. She continued her study of medicine with graduate courses at the University of Michigan Medical School in 1893. Her medical career lasted more than fifty years and she continued to teach obstetrics classes into her eighties.
Photo: Dr. Ellis Reynolds Shipp, for whom Utah's Ellis R. Shipp Community Health Center was named. (Daughters of the Utah Pioneers &

Romania Pratt (Penrose) ran a school of obstetrics for 20 years as a resident physician at the Deseret Hospital. Shipp trained nurses and midwives throughout the territory and gave birth to 10 children of her own, four of whom died in infancy.
Martha Hughes Cannon continued Young's tradition and studied medicine at the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania. Her degree from the National School of Elocution and Oratory helped her become the first woman state senator in the U.S. in 1896.
Martha Hughes Cannon, for whom Utah's Cannon Health Building was named.
Photos: Deseret News Archives & Utah Historical Society website
From an early age "Mattie" desired to study medicine, and worked to that end as a schoolteacher and typesetter while attending the University of Deseret. After her graduation with a degree in chemistry in 1875, she attended the medical school at the University of Michigan from 1878 to 1881, graduating as a physician at the age of 23, and practiced medicine for a short time in Algonac, Michigan.

Photo taken in 1880 - the year she became a doctor. Photo courtesy Utah Historical Society Digital Collection.
In 1882 Martha earned a B.S. from the Auxiliary School of Medicine (Pharmacy, where she was the only woman among a class of 75) from the University of Pennsylvania, and received a diploma from the National School of Elocution and Oratory. After graduation Mattie returned to Salt Lake City where she was resident physician at the fledgling Deseret Hospital from 1882 to 1886.
Mattie practiced medicine in Salt Lake and taught nursing courses from the age of 25. After leaving the legislature she served as a member of the Utah Board of Health and as a member of the board of the Utah State School for the Deaf and Dumb. (Utah History to Go)

Doctors Cannon and Shipp were two professional women who were instrumental in warning of contaminated water and other issues of sanitation. Dr. Shipp and a sister began publishing, in 1888, the Salt Lake Sanitarian, a health journal, in which were articles on disinfection, drinking water, and industrial hazards, especially in relation to tuberculosis.
Trivia: Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman in the U.S. to receive a medical degree. She received her MD from the Medical Institution of Geneva, New York, in 1849.
Want to read more?
USU's Special Collections: "Early History of Medicine in Utah and Cache Valley," by Dr. S.M. Budge, "Frontier Health Care," Utah HSA Report, February 1978; Medicine and the Mormons, Divett ; "Heroes and Horse Doctors," Dr. Richard Daines, Rocky Mountain Medicine, Shikes; Medicine in the West,Breeden; Encyclopedia of Plagues and Pestilence, Kohn; A Half Century of Public Health, Ravenel; Utah: The Struggle for Statehood and Utah History Encyclopedia. See also: Cannon
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