In March 1899, the Minnesota legislature confirmed a series of appointments by Governor John Lind. Passing largely, but not entirely, unnoticed was the appointment of Dr. Adele Stuart Hutchinson to the Minnesota State Board of Medical Examiners. As the Minneapolis Homeopathic Magazine trumpeted in its headline, Minnesota had placed a woman on their state medical board—a first for the state and the country.
Dr. Hutchinson served two terms (6 years) on the board from 1899-1905. In 1900, her peers on the board selected her as president of the board—a decision drawing a snide comment from one journal, The Medical Advance: “Well! Well! Wouldn’t that agitate your mesentery[sic]?” Hutchinson’s health may already have begun declining by the end of her tenure on the board as she returned to her family home in Andover, Massachusetts in 1906. Though active socially her health worsened steadily and she died in May 1909.
Looking back, the appointment of Hutchinson seems to have led directly to the selection of two of her successors on the board, Drs. Margaret Koch (1905-1911) and Annah Hurd (1911-1917). The linkage between all three was the Minnesota Homeopathic Medical College.
As noted in Part 1 of this blog, Hutchinson was an early founder and supporter of the college. Margaret Koch, the daughter of German-born immigrant parents, graduated from the college in 1895 and two years later was serving as part of its faculty. She and Hutchinson were both active in the state homeopathic medical society. Thus, their paths intersected at several points within what was a small community of women physicians in Minneapolis.
As the end of Hutchinson’s tenure on the medical board drew closer, there were parties determined not to waste the precedent set by Hutchinson’s appointment. The Women’s Medical Club of Minneapolis mounted a campaign for Dr. Koch to fill Hutchinson’s spot on the board.
With Koch’s appointment to the board, a direct connection to the suffrage movement becomes clear. Koch actively worked with the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA) with her office even serving for a period as the organization’s headquarters. Koch served various roles with the organization from 1900 to 1910 (auditor, reporter, treasurer, chairman) and then as Vice-President (1910-1913). Many of the women physicians remembered by Hutchinson in her 1903 article with the newspaper were active in that state’s suffrage movement: Mary Hood, Martha Ripley, Mary Whetstone.
Among Koch’s colleagues in the suffrage movement were a remarkable mother and daughter, Ethel and Annah Hurd. Ethel Hurd was one the mainstays of the movement. The first woman to graduate Knox College in Illinois, Ethel Hurd labored for decades with the Minnesota Women’s Suffrage Association (MWSA) and the Political Equality Committee of Minneapolis. Ethel and Annah both graduated from the Minnesota Homeopathic Medical College. Ethel in 1897 at approximately the age of fifty; Annah in 1900 after earlier graduating from its school of Pharmacy (1896).
As Koch’s term on the state medical board drew to a close in 1911, the same forces that rallied to place Koch on the board now pressed the case for Annah Hurd. Like Hutchinson and Koch before her, Dr. Annah Hurd served six years on the Minnesota board. She seemed to have been instrumental in that board’s development and administration of its “practical” component to its licensing examination.
The string of appointments placing a woman physician on the board continued in 1917 with Dr. Ida Adams McKeen. Once again personal/professional connection played a pivotal role. Dr. McKeen worked with Annah Hurd as the lead physicians at a private hospital, the Minneapolis Maternity Hospital. Dr. McKeen appears to have served two terms on the Minnesota board (1917-1923).
I have been unable to learn more about Dr. McKeen or find records for the Minnesota board beyond this point. Thus, it is possible that the unique and unprecedented string of appointments placing a woman physician on the board continued beyond 1923…but it also possible Dr. McKeen was the last woman to serve on the Minnesota board before a lapse of many years.
As I reflect on these women and their stories, several thoughts are crowding my mind. First, it strikes me as remarkable that this story has lain buried so long…essentially forgotten today and all but not ignored even at the time it was happening. Keep in mind, I have run across no other instances of a woman serving on a state medical board during this time period. And while I cannot state definitively that no other state had a woman physician serving on their medical board during this period, the best evidence suggests this.
The American Medical Directory from 1921 listed the member of each state’s medical licensing body, i.e., state board of medical examiners or board of health. I found no other women listed as serving that year though it is possible some are hidden in plain sight due to the practice of some states listing people by initial rather than given name, e.g., D. A. Johnson rather than David A. Johnson.
Second, I found the personal histories of Hutchinson, Koch and Hurd striking in one regard. All three women defied their time period’s conventional notions of gender roles and societal norms by remaining unmarried. I find myself wondering whether this was a consciously made choice as perhaps professional and social priorities felt more rewarding? Or was this simply a life that unfolded without the right partner (him or her) ever intersecting with these women?
Finally, I am struck by the power of personal and professional relationships in the appointment of individuals to state medical boards. This is hardly surprising. I suspect if we selected ten people at random from the state board community today we would hear stories from most explaining how a “connection” led them to service. What feels unique with this Minnesota experience from a century ago is that the relationships and connections may have had as much to do with political and social activism as they did with conventional relationships established through medical education and practice.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not reflect those of the Federation of State Medical Boards.
“The First Woman Medical Examiner,” Minneapolis Homeopathic Magazine, Vol 8, no 5, 1899, page 152
“Personals,” The Medical Advance, Vol 37, 1900, page 648
Official Register of Physicians (Minneapolis: State Board of Medical Examiners, 1909)
“News Items,” New York Medical Journal and Philadelphia Medical Journal: A Weekly Review of Medicine, February 11, 1905, p. 300
Biography of Margaret Koch at https://documents.alexanderstreet.com/d/1009932307
Biography of Annah Hurd at https://documents.alexanderstreet.com/d/1009860072
David Johnson, ‘Practical Examinations’: How Minnesota’s Experiments with Assessment Changed Perspectives in the Early 20th Century,” Journal of Medical Regulation, vol 104, no 3, 2018
Polk’s Medical Register and Directory of the United States (Detroit: R.L. Polk and Co., 1917) p 831
American Medical Directory, 7th edition, p. 787…see also 6th edition p. 835