Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sleepy Eye's First Female Doctor


One of the first female doctors in Sleepy Eye was a frontier woman named Mary Ranson Strickler. Mary was the daughter of a doctor, though she was not encouraged to study medicine, "there was no calling for a woman" according to her father, Dr. Stephen William Ranson. Mary was born on May 25th, 1873 to Mary (Foster) Ranson and Dr. Stephen William Ranson, at Dodge Center, Minnesota. Both parents were of English heritage.

Mary had graduated in 1894 from Hamline University, from there she taught in Marshall, Minnesota. She was praised highly by the superintendent for her geometry class, though she was unhappy as a teacher and did not return to Marshall after their Thanksgiving break.

Mary's father had said to Mary un-approvingly that if she were to quit this job she would have to be very ill in order to do so, she should at least have to finish out the rest of the year. Mary had said, "I will just have to get sick then". Her father said it would have to be something very serious. Mary was quite convincing when she set her mind to something. Mary convinced her father to write to the school board that she had come down with none other than a bad case if typhoid which would make it impossible for Mary to continue to teach that year.

Once again in 1895 Mary attempted the teaching profession at St. Paul for a third grade class at the Hancock School District. However, tried and true unhappiness settled in again. Mary's sister Carrie could see how unhappy she was so she offered to pay the expenses of a medical education. Mary at once registered at the medical school in Minneapolis. However, there was still one problem, Dr. Ranson, or rather “father”. But instead of being angry about the situation Mary's father agreed to allow Mary to attend medical school if Carrie, Mary’s sister, would pay the expenses for room and board, and allow Dr. Ranson to pay for tuition and books. Attending medicine school was no picnic for Mary. Oftentimes men would play jokes on the women. One of the jokes would be placing human fingers in the pockets of the smocks they would wear during lab time. When the women would reach in their pockets they would be in for a freaky surprise. The fingers would come from autopsies the students would be performing. However, Mary toughed through it and in 1896 Mary graduated from medical school.

Dr. Mary then worked with her father Dr. Ranson until she married. She learned a lot about what it was like being a Dr. on the frontier. During her early years of being a Dr. her father entrusted her to take care of a few patients alone while he was away. One visit was out in the country, ten miles out of town to be exact. A simple case; to remove a cast from a fractured leg, massage the leg, and then replace with a new cast. However, a blizzard from the day before had made a drift of snow to make it impossible to where the roads were, or the ditch, or even the fields. The boy who was driving the sleigh for her was careful enough, but the sleigh had turned upside down, and nearly decapitated the driver. One of the horses had slipped and fallen under the other and was badly cut. The whiffletree of the sleigh was broken, but ropes and straps from a nearby farm that were furnished to repair it wasn’t enough to do the job. Dr. Mary had to go part of the distance on foot, but she made it. It took several weeks for the injured horse to recover from this incidence.

On September 15th, 1900, Dr. Mary Ranson wedded to Dr. Abraham Franklin Strickler who was born on January 2nd, 1873 to Elizabeth Henderson Strickler and Daniel Strickler of Ontario, Canada. They were a couple of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, and were of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. The family moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, when Franklin was nine years old. Franklin graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1894.

Right after Mary and Abraham's wedding the couple went to Europe in 1900. Abraham went off to study the "eye, ear, nose, and throat" at the Vienna Hospital. Mary also wanting to learn, she learned about the German language through museums and other cultural places. Once Abraham was done with his studies, in 1901, the couple returned to the States, and moved to Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. Here they made their home and began their practices of medicine together. They had but one child together. On July 25th, 1901 a daughter was born, Elizabeth Strickler.

Dr. Mary had many adventures as a frontier Dr. in our small town Sleepy Eye. At times she found out that summertime could be just as harsh of a time as wintertime could be. One of those stories was when Mary had a delivery call for a baby in Evan, which is about 10 miles away from Sleepy Eye. It happen to had rained heavily previously and made the gravel roads into rivers of mud. By the time midnight came along one could not see so easily of any previous tracks in the road, so the only way to see if you were on the road was to watch for the differences between the roadside weeds and the weeds in the middle of the road. With a rising moon, Mary reached Evan. The return by daylight however, seemed far more terrifying because the danger could be seen. The conditions of the roads were reported to the authorities and they had blocked off the road from Evan to Sleepy Eye for a month until the water had drained away. In those days this whole area was sloughy.

At another time in Evan a resident called during winter to report the nearness of a baby. It was suggested waiting for the train at the Depot to take her to Evan, however the train wasn't due for another two hours. Dr. A. F. Strickler had said because there was very little snow he would drive Dr. Mary and a nurse to Evan. By the time they got to the edge of town, they ran into drifts he wasn't able to free up his car. They were stuck just three miles out of Sleepy Eye. Of course the train steamed right past as they sat in the car. You can imagine the look on the two women's faces as they glared at Dr. Abraham. The two women picked up their "little black bags", and walked to the nearest farm, and asked the farmer to take them to Evan with his bobsleigh. "I have no bobsleigh", answered the farmer. "All I have is a manure wagon." Dr. Mary persuaded him to pile a lot of straw in the wagon and put a horse blanket over it and it would do. Dr. Mary's destination was an apartment over the village bank and just as they arrived they saw the banker and the general store proprietor standing on the sidewalk.

Back in those days women wore ankle-length skirts. Modesty forbade the lady doctor to show her ankles. Handing her satchel to the nurse and asking the two men to assist the nurse from the wagon, Dr. Mary took full advantage of their inattention to spring from the wagon on the opposite side. To her embarrassment, the men who rushed to help her got a view of her underclothes. However, the story doesn't end here. Reaching the patient Dr. Mary discovered that the delivery was going to be quite difficult, so she phoned her husband to come on the next train to Evan. The new baby was delivered safely, and the doctors then took the next train for Sleepy Eye home.

While World War I was going on, here at home Dr. Mary was busy. She had the flu epidemic to battle with. This was the time that the flu had swept over the nation in a form which took many lives. One night, in a blizzard, a man phoned that his wife was very ill and wanted help at once. A seven-mile distance drive did not seem too safe, but the man insisted that his wife could not wait.

Dr. Mary had driven to the farm once she got there Mary found the woman’s lungs, temperature, and pulse to be completely normal. There was nothing wrong except that she was worn out from trying to do her own housework and helping her husband with his chores. In addition she was frightened almost to death of getting the flu. Mary knew that she couldn’t tell the lady that there was nothing wrong with her otherwise the couple would just end up calling one of the other male doctors in the area and of course they would of surely made up “something wrong” with her just to go against Dr. Mary’s official diagnosis because she was a woman. So in response of the situation, Dr. Mary made a diagnosis. She told the lady, “you have sent for me in the nick of time. If you do exactly what I say you will come along O.K. and it probably will not be necessary for me to come out again. But if you do want me I will come day or night.” Mary ended up giving her a tonic and told the lady not to get out of bed for a week. Then she was to phone and tell Mary how she felt. Mary also made sure the husband would feed the wife a nourishing diet that Mary prescribed. Also, he was to keep her feet warm with bags of salt. Back then farmers rarely owned hot-water bottles but they did own salt, so they would warm up salt bags which worked just the same. By the end of the week, the woman called Mary, and said Mary had “saved her life."

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