Sunday, May 15, 2011

Physicians, Suffrage, and History

In June the Allen County - Fort Wayne Historical Society will celebrate its 90th anniversary. Among the Fort Wayne citizens who came together in February 1921 to form the Society were two women physicians, Dr. Carrie B. Banning and Dr. Jessie C. Calvin. Both had been practicing medicine and leading public health efforts in Fort Wayne since the turn of the century. In 1921 women had just won the right to vote. Drs. Banning and Calvin were strong role models for what women could do.

Carrie Banning moved to Fort Wayne soon after graduation from Cleveland University of Medicine in 1894. Like a number of other physicians of her day, she was licensed to practice homeopathic medicine. Although the American Medical Association frowned on homeopathy, Dr. Banniing was respected for her medical skills. She was the first medical examiner for women employees at General Electric, the largest empoyer of women. She gave free medical checkups at the Y.W.C.A. to all women. At the beginning of World War I, she recruited nurses to serve with the Red Cross.

Dr. Banning was a passionate worker for improved public health. Supported by the Women's Club League and parent teacher clubs, in 1916 she won appointment as one of the first three medical inspectors for Fort Wayne public schools. In this role, she examined hundreds of school children, calling attention to their need for medical care. Concerned about the spread of disease, she appeared before city council to protest the city ordinance that prohibited wrapping garbage.

Twenty years before women won the right to vote, Dr. Banning championed suffrage and greater women's rights. She knew Susan B. Anthony well enough to call her "Aunt Susan." In 1912 Dr. Banning helped Fort Wayne women organize a suffrage club. She spent years winning public support for the cause that often seemed hopeless. Once the 19th Amendment to the Constitution passed in August 1920, she helped organize the League of Women Voters, advocated for the right of women to serve on juries, and joined in political campaigning.

Dr. Jessie Carrithers Calvin, a contemporary of Dr. Banning, graduated from Northwestern University Medical School for Women in 1895. Winning a very competitive internship, she served at the Illinois State Hospital for the Insane for the next two years. In 1897, now married to Dr. Warren Calvin, a graduate of Rush Medical College in Chicago, she moved to Fort Wayne.

The Drs. Calvin shared a medical practice from offices on the 200 and 300 blocks of West Wayne Street. Dr. Jessie specialized in obstetrics and gynecology, regularly visiting patients in their homes. Dr. Warren Calvin was known for his treatment of skin diseases and as a faculty member of Fort Wayne Medical College. He was also an active supporter of woman suffrage.

In her first years in Fort Wayne, Dr. Jessie became largely responsibile for the organization of the Visiting Nurse League. She recruited church women, raised funds and drew support from local physicians. As a result of her efforts, the Visiting Nurse League was able to hire nurses to visit need people in their homes. She crusaded for better nutrition, safe drinking water and better care for victims of tuberculosis. Dr. Jessie worked through the Women's Club League to educate others on the prevention of contagious diseases.

As the 90th anniversary of the Allen County -Fort Wayne Historical Society draws near, Drs. Carrie Banning and Jessie Calvin would be delighted to be remembered as charter members. They would remind you that Dr. Warren Calvin also shared this honor and they would like you to know something about their future years. In less than a year, Warren Calvin would die. In the dark Depression years 1935 - 1938, Dr. Jessie would proudly serve as president of the society. She and Dr. Banning would continue to look after the health of Fort Wayne for many years to come.

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