Stubborn Courage: How My Grandmother Became a Doctor in 1925
On a late winter afternoon in 1920 my grandmother pressed a black wax seal against the envelope containing her application to medical school. She had decided to continue her education and become a doctor.
Knowing the vast challenge of presenting herself as a female candidate - her name, Edith, flags as a decidedly female name - she chose the wax from her father's desk to announce her envelope's arrival at the admission's office with earnestness.
Carrie and Albert raised their daughter Edith to be forthright and persistent, after all, those are the qualities needed for harvests and good trades in all conditions.
It was now well into the twentieth century. "Twentieth," a new landmark number...as if this was the very last century ever, or the beginning of something entirely new. No matter, Edith's generation was just seat-belting (quite literally) into the quickly expanding landscape of risks and choices. As daring as applying to medical school could be for a twenty-three year old American woman, her ambition matched other daring endeavors of her peers in this roaring new decade.
Dropping the envelope in the mail slot, she knew her waiting may as well be just wishing. After all, there was a war going on, women were only just granted the right to vote, and Philadelphia was a long train ride from Worcester, Massachusetts.
The reply never arrived. Edith's application was not acknowledged.
As September approached, Edith resigned to the decision that she had not been accepted into medical school.
They didn't reject you either, her mother reminded.
For reasons that can only be explained as a certain stubborn courage, my great grandmother, Carrie and her daughter, Edith boarded the train from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania with bags packed for the whole school year.
Carrie stood beside Edith as she proceeded to enroll anyway. Without a rejection letter on file, there was no record to protest.
My grandmother was a fine candidate and competent student as she completed her medical degree in 1925. Years later, she doubled up on patient loads during World War II when most of the male doctors, including her husband, served as military medics and physicians over seas.
Known as "Doc" around the city, she had a busy practice in her office, rounds at the hospitals and regular house-calls. Dr. Edith retired in 1980 when she was 79 years old.
After the retirement party, which even included a parade of some sort, she advised me, "Never retire if you don't have to, my work was the joy of life."