Dr. Harriet E. Warren (1842-1894)

Advertisement for Dr. H. E. Warren. "The Wellington Enterprise," 2-12-1890, pg. 1.

Advertisement for Dr. H. E. Warren. “The Wellington Enterprise,” 2-12-1890, pg. 1.

“The first woman doctor in Lorain County was Dr. Harriet Warner who opened up an office on Herrick Ave. in Wellington. She had qualified as a doctor in a medical college, but because she was a woman a certificate to practice medicine in Ohio was denied her. Undaunted (and in fact illegally) she ‘hung out her shingle’ and started practice in the village. By bulldog persistence she did finally persuade the state to grant the certificate due her” (Robert Walden Notebook, #A214).

This brief biographical sketch was written by local amateur historian Robert Walden sometime around 1961. At that time, Walden was ninety-three years old and within a year of his own death. Even if he had known Dr. Harriet E. Warren personally, she had been dead for over sixty-five years. I have no way of knowing at present how many details of his story are correct, but I do know that several particulars–not least of which is the doctor’s name–are inaccurate.

Harriet E. Warren was born in Wellington in 1842. She was very bright and apparently teaching school by a young age. I have no notion of what made Harriet Warren want to become a professional healer in nineteenth-century Ohio, but by the 1870s she was studying medicine with local physician and druggist Dr. James Rust. She graduated from his alma mater, the Cleveland Homeopathic Medical College, in 1877; the school had begun accepting female students just six years earlier.

Headstone of Dr. James Rust and his wife, Sophia Goss Rust, at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Headstone of Dr. James Rust and his wife, Sophia Goss Rust, at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

After a decade of practicing in Elyria, during which time she was active in both the Lorain County Medical Association and a public advocate of prohibition, Warren returned home to Wellington. In the little I have found published about her, I find no mention of the “illegal” nature of her work that Walden alleged. John Houghton, another local doctor and druggist, wrote of Harriet Warren: “Notwithstanding social and professional prejudices necessarily encountered in the practice of medicine by a woman, she built up a respectable and lucrative practice and had the confidence and esteem of her patrons and friends” (The Wellington Enterprise, 8-22-1894, pg. 4).

According to an advertisement that appeared in the Enterprise nearly one hundred times (see above), Dr. Warren lived and kept an office in the post office building, which was then located on South Main Street. Though run for many years out of John Houghton’s drug, book and stationery shop, in 1879 the post office had relocated four doors north, to a small, two-story brick building adjacent to Baldwin, Laundon and Company’s enormous corner dry-goods store. It continued to appear in that location on Sanborn Fire Insurance maps for both 1889 and 1893.

Detail of a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Wellington, Ohio dated April, 1889. Shows the "P.O." or post office, located on South Main Street. Also noted in that building is a "Confecy" or confectionary (i.e. candy) shop. OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons. Accessed 5-19-2014.

Detail of a Sanborn Fire Insurance map for Wellington, Ohio dated April, 1889. Shows the “P.O.” or post office, located on South Main Street. Also noted in that building is a “Confecy” or confectionery (i.e. sweet) shop. OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons. Accessed 5-19-2014.

Early-twentieth-century image of the west side of South Main Street. The building on the left side of the frame once housed Houghton's drug, book and stationery shop. The building on the right  side of the frame was home to the post office and once held the residence and medical office of Dr. Harriet Warren. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, "The Spirit of '76" Museum.

Early-twentieth-century image of the west side of South Main Street. The three-story building on the left side of the frame once housed Houghton’s drug, book and stationery shop. The two-story building on the right side of the frame was home to the post office (the sign is visible over the doorway) and once held the residence and medical office of Dr. Harriet Warren. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

In August 1894, when she was fifty-two years old, Dr. Harriet Warren was killed in a tragic accident. While driving a buggy to visit a patient north of town, Warren was thrown out of the vehicle and trampled when her horse took a fright. Another female passenger was unharmed, but the doctor was badly injured and unable to move. She was taken to the home of her brother, F. D. Warren. Drs. Rust and Houghton both came to offer medical assistance, but she died in the early hours of the following morning.

John Houghton delivered a lengthy and moving eulogy at her funeral, which was reprinted in the Enterprise. Her family had asked him to perform the task, he said, because “professional tastes and common sympathies, social, political and otherwise, conspired to bring us frequently in each other’s society and I may have come to know her more intimately than most others, save her near relatives” (8-22-1894, pg. 4). There were resolutions of sympathy from the Wellington Grange, and the Bible studies group of the Methodist Sunday School cancelled their lesson in favor of a memorial service attended by more than sixty people (9-5-1894, pg. 5). According to a description of the memorial service, “A picture of Dr. Warren was tastefully draped and the room decorated with flowers.” I have been unable to locate any such photograph. She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in the Warren family plot.

Headstone of Warren family, including Dr. Harriet E. Warren, at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Headstone of Warren family, including Dr. Harriet E. Warren, at Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

I do not know if Robert Walden was correct in naming Harriet Warren the first female physician in Lorain County. In examining a forty-page publication called “Medicine in Lorain County’s First Century” (1960) by C. Ruth Zealley, I found no mention of her, though I did note the inclusion of Wellington doctors Daniel Johns and John Houghton. (A single paragraph discusses female practitioners, and mentions only Dr. Lydia Chapin Jump by name; she graduated from the same school as Warren, though seven years later, and worked in Oberlin.) I am so curious to know more about Warren’s life and professional career. Perhaps someone reading this is a relative and could shed some light through family papers or stories.

I will give the last word to her friend and colleague, John Houghton: “Modest and unpretentious, she yet had a vigorous intellect, a good memory, was an extensive reader and thoroughly in touch with all the progressive ideas and movements of the day. She had for her grievance the woes and misfortunes of the afflicted and oppressed, and in her efforts to compass their release knew no shrinking, no selfishness . . . Her wisdom, her good sense and womanliness, the brightness and strength of her intellect, her cheerful, charitable spirit, her modest yet dignified bearing, her intense love of nature and her appreciation of and tenderness for all God’s creatures were known to all who knew her. The spontaneous expression of sorrow from families who had known her professionally is a worthy tribute of her character.”

UPDATE: Wellington Genealogy Group president Marilyn Wainio generously shared some of her own research findings about Dr. Warren with me. She uncovered seven articles published about Warren in Elyria and Cleveland newspapers. The notices confirm her participation in the Lorain County Medical Association, as well as her being an active member of the Elyria Woman Suffrage Association. There is a passing reference to a Harriet E. Warren who was a published author; if this is the same person, I have not been able to learn what title(s) she wrote. Perhaps most interestingly, there are two pieces about Dr. Warren’s work as the “Dispensary physician” of the Women and Children’s Free Dispensary in Cleveland. The clinic, “organized by lady physicians of this city,” operated out of Cleveland’s Homeopathic Hospital College, where Warren had completed her medical training only two years before. “In addition to the resident dispensary physician, Dr. Harriet E. Warren, who is a most accomplished lady, and thoroughly fitted for her position and duties, there is a very efficient corps of attendant physicians, composed of six well-known lady physicians” (The Cleveland Leader, 1-31-1879, pg. 3). Leaving aside the question of whether Harriet Warren was the first female physician in Lorain County, it certainly seems that women doctors in northeast Ohio were not as scarce as one might have initially supposed by the 1870s.

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5 thoughts on “Dr. Harriet E. Warren (1842-1894)

  1. Deb Bromley

    Harriet Warren was actually not the first female physician in Lorain County. My ggggg-grandmother was – Catherine G. Arndt, (1830-1887). She lived in Amherst and assisted her husband Johann (John) Arndt at his office on S. Main who was a physician until his death in 1865 due to injuries he incurred after being attacked by a mob of Southern sympathizers while recruiting during the Civil War . Catherine then went to medical school at that same homeopathic college in Cleveland, even though she was left a widow with five young children – she sent two of her older boys to a friend’s farm to stay and work and the younger three children stayed home in the care of a female friend while she was away, with visits every few weeks. She graduated in 1869 and is listed on the college roster as C.G. Arndt. Over the years, she published numerous case studies and articles, as well as attended conferences and meetings of the Medical Society. Shortly after graduation, she returned to Amherst and began practicing independently by 1870. She is listed as a physician on the 1870 census in Amherst, and advertises in the paper throughout the 1870’s. Their home and her practice was on Blackmer St. (now Beaver Ct) on the square at the Five Corners and the home still stands. Two of their sons were doctors as well, George D. Arndt of Mount Vernon and Hugo R. Arndt (who was quite famous during his life). Much of the family history is available at the Amherst Historical Society.I don’t think there was as much bias exhibited towards my grandmother as toward Harriet in Wellington for some reason. I know at the time of my grandmother’s death there was a long article in the paper about her death and funeral (unusual for the time) talking about how she was also very esteemed and how a huge crowd attended with many tears and flowers. I know my grandmother told me that her grandmother who was there witnessed Catherine frequently going out in the middle of the night on horseback, even in extreme blizzards, cold, storms, to help anyone who needed it even if they couldn’t pay. And that she also would temporarily house escaped slaves in her home and help them reach Canada.

    Reply
  2. Deb Bromley

    P.S. Of course, the escaped slaves being helped were earlier before her husband’s death and prior to to the end of the Civil War

    Reply

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