In working on the February, 1885 issue of The American Missionary for Distributed Proofreaders, I came across the name Martha M. Waldron, M.D., in the list of Officers and Teachers at the Hampton Institute in Virginia. While there are plenty of women in the AmMiss issues, almost none have degrees or titles attached to their names, so Dr. Waldron stood out. I was curious to know more, so I I turned to Google, starting with trying to figure out how rare a female physician would have been in 1885. I remembered that Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman M.D., but not when she’d become one, so I looked that up first to get a starting point, which turned out to be 1849. Okay, so there was one in 1849; how many were there by 1885? According to this article, in 1890 (close enough for my idle curiosity purposes), only 5% of U.S. physicians were women. So yes, Dr. Waldron would have been a rarity in her own time and place as much as she was for me on the pages of this periodical. When I went looking for information on the woman herself, I got distracted by finding out that she helped the first female Native American doctor, Susan LaFlesche Picotte get into medical school in 1886 (at the time of the AmMiss issue that started me a-Googling, Miss LaFlesche was a student at Hampton). I got further distracted by reading that Dr. LaFlesche Picotte’s parents were called Iron Eye and The One Woman. Pursuing that led to an article about Dr. LaFlesche Pictotte’s sister, Susette, which said that Iron Eye, also known as Joseph LaFlesche, was the last chief of the Omahas and the son of a French fur trader and a Native American woman, and that One Woman, also known as Susan Gale, was the daughter of a white U.S. Army doctor and an Native American woman. The same site had an article about Dr. LaFlesche Picotte that filled in some of the details I’d been wondering about. One of these days I’ll have to do some more digging on Dr. Waldron, she who started my down this particular tangent.
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