The Mystery of the Remarkable and Audacious Dr. Mrs. Rachel C. Martin: A Women’s Suffrage Juggernaut

In 1876 the “Albany Evening Journal” newspaper ran an ad for Dr. Rachel C. Martin advertising the availability of garments for “Under Dress Reform” and electro – thermo treatments. At that time there were only three female physicians in Albany, and they all treated only women and children in the most traditional ways. Dr. Martin’s path (and her advertisement of services) seemed more than just a bit unconventional, We needed to know more about her. She was clearly a woman ahead of her time.

Rachel was born in 1819, daughter of John Cutler, a watchmaker and son of a Revolutionary War soldier, and Magadelena Goewey from an old Albany area Dutch family. She was one of four children who survived to adulthood. It seems to have been the most ordinary of families. In 1848, when Rachel was about 28, she married Joseph Martin and moved to Philadelphia. At this point her father had passed away, her sister Ann was married and her mother was living with Ann. There’s scant information about her life in Philadelphia. Her husband was listed as a sewing machine maker in that City’s 1860 directory.

In 1861 we found Rachel had left Philadelphia and about age 41ish, enrolled in the Albany State Normal School to become a teacher, one of the few jobs available to women. At that time only single or widowed women were permitted to teach. Rachel was neither.

Her husband died a year later in Philadelphia in 1862. His death notice mentions he was the son-in-law of John Cutler; Rachel isn’t mentioned. This was the same year Rachel’s mother Magdalena is died; there is no mention of Rachel in that death notice either. Something had caused a schism between Rachel and her family.

Next, we found Rachel listed as a teacher in Albany directories. In the middle 1860s she had a “select school” at 696 Broadway. Starting in 1866 we found newspaper ads for Rachel Martin’s dance classes, conducted by a variety of dancing “professors” at both the 696 Broadway (a/k/a Kinter Garden Hall) and a State St. location. In 1869 she was operating both a school in that location AND a Turkish Bath!

Rachel Martin was clearly determined to make her own way in a world where women were expected to depend on men – fathers, husbands or brothers.

In 1869 and 1870 Rachel was lecturing in Albany on “Social and Domestic Reform” and “What Woman has done and can do to establish herself” (in the Assembly Chamber of the NYS Capitol) and in surrounding counties on the issue of women’s suffrage. She was a one woman juggernaut for equal rights. In July 1870 she took the stage with Susan B. Anthony in Saratoga Springs at a woman’s suffrage convention in Congress Hall. The issue at hand was the enactment of federal legislation providing voting rights for Black men while excluding all women. In May 1870 she was again standing with Susan B, Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton at the Apollo Hall in New York City at the Union Suffrage Convention. (Unlike Anthony and Stanton Rachel had no family supports or husband – Rachel was an anomaly.)

(In the 1870 census Rachel is identified living in Albany with an Albert Cutler, age 21, born in New York State. Another mystery. Is Albert her son? A nephew? Why the Cutler surname? In any event Albert disappears from the records never to be seen again.)

And now another plot twist. In 1871 when Rachel was in her early 50s she enrolled in the newly established New York Free Medical College for Women. (It’s clear from NYS records and newspaper reports that she played a key role in securing State legislative approval for the College.)

Who saw this coming? We did a little digging and found a possible answer. In the late 1860s and 1870 Rachel’s establishment at 696 Broadway was next door to that of Dr. Emma Burleigh* who at the time appears to have been the only female physician in Albany. It’s quite likely that Dr. Burleigh influenced Rachel’s decision to attend medical college.

In 1873 Rachel graduated from Medical College and became Dr. Martin (or “Mrs. Dr. Martin” or “Dr. Mrs. Martin” – it’s clear the world was grappling with what to call married female physicians). But rather than practice medicine she appears to have spent the next year living in Brooklyn and lecturing throughout that borough and Manhattan on behalf of the temperance and women’s suffragist movements.

By 1876 she returned to Albany and opened her own practice, specializing in women’s health issues, including undergarment reform. Dress reform was a hot topic of the time. Many physicians and feminists were trying to persuade women to abandon tightly-laced whale bone or steel-ribbed constricting corsets. (It would take another 40 years and a shortage of steel in World War I to get women to stop wearing corsets.)

An example of 1870s under garment dress reform alternatives

In that year she lectured in Saratoga Springs on the general topic “Reform”. A Saratogian newspaper article notifying the public of the forthcoming lecture said, “The Doctor is highly spoken of by the press as a clear thinker and a good speaker”. And yet in April 1880, when Rachel became a founding member of the Albany Women’s Suffrage Society, the press singled her out and savaged her. The Argus didn’t bother referring to her as “Dr.” or even “Mrs. – massive shade for the time. At the first meeting of the Society the Argus reporter didn’t share the sentiments of the Saratogian. He refers to her “wanting in propriety” and “lack of perception”. Oh boy! She seems to have ruffled some feathers.

In the 1880s Rachel divided her time between Saratoga Springs (probably in the “Season”) and Albany, Although in 1880 she’s the second physician to register with the town of Saratoga Springs, in 1885 the town board of Saratoga Springs appointed Dr. Martin as the town nurse, rather than as a physician. (Sigh.)

Finally, about 1891 she returned to Albany and entered the Home for the Friendless (a/k/a The Guardian Society) on Clinton Ave. It was large well-appointed retirement building for older, single Protestant ladies with some funds, but without family. (In the terminology of our day, it was a continuing care community – residents turned the bulk of their assets over to the Home in exchange for a promise to be well-cared for to the end of their days.)

But there’s life left in Rachel. In her last public act in 1894 she wrote a letter to the editor of “Argus” in which she called out prominent Albany attorney Matthew Hale who had just given a major address railing against votes for women to a large anti-suffrage group. In the letter she said “.. if he (Mathew Hale) would track up the bad men as sharp as the bad women politics would not need the women as they do now.” (Smackdown.)Dr. Martin died in 1901. She’s buried in Albany Rural Cemetery Section 89 Lot 32.

But Rachel left one last mystery. Her gravestone also carries the name of James Whelply, who died in 1875. It’s a joint headstone. It took a while to sort this out, with the help of Paula Lemire, Historian at the Cemetery and Lorie Wies, Local History Librarian, Saratoga Springs Public Library.

Rachel was named in Whelply’s will and inherited money. The cemetery plot was provided for Whelply and Rachel in 1875 by the daughter of Whelply’s best friend. James Whelply was a number of years older than Rachel, an attorney who grew up in Albany who never married. You can draw your own conclusions about their relationship, but we think that at some point they were devoted lovers, which is why they share a plot and headstone.

This is the last surprise in a surprising life of a woman who marched to the beat of her own drum.

*Dr. Emma Burleigh would become a woman of great notoriety. She was born outside Utica, married young, was abandoned by her husband in England who kidnapped her children, who she never saw again. In the 1850s she graduated from a female medical college in Philadelphia. She acted as an agent for a NYC publisher who sent her to Albany to lobby the Legislature to adopt his textbooks and charts for statewide use. It appears she was quite a favorite with NYS legislators. She had a torrid affair with Benjamin Sickles, who would become well-known Civil War general and who was also notorious for killing his wife’s lover, the son of Francis Scott Key. He was not convicted, having invoked what would become known as the “insanity defense”. Emma had several children by a former classmate from her home town while living in Albany. By 1871 Dr. Burleigh was lived on Howard St. between Lodge and Eagle. In 1872 she was accused of being an abortionist (no criminal charges were brought.) In the same year her lover turned she and her children out of the Howard St. house he owned. She traveled to Utica, followed him onto a horse car, pulled a gun and attempted to shoot him. Sadly, she killed his companion. She was tried and found not guilty. She returned briefly to Albany. She lived the last years of her life, surrounded by her children, on the Jersey Shore.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

James Gardner: The first African American Graduate of the Albany College of Pharmacy

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James Gardner was born in 1864 just before the end of the Civil War to William and Elizabeth Gardiner.
His father William was a barber. By the early 1850s he been active  for some time in Albany African equal rights politics, and attended several New York State Colored Conventions.
In the 1850s he was the Vice President of the Albany Vigilance Committee, tasked with financing Albany’s Underground Railroad (UGRR) to help fugitive slaves escape from South.
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After the Civil War he was very active in the Republican Party, and a member of the group of men who lobbied the Albany Board of Public Instruction to desegregate Albany Schools. Elizabeth was active in Albany’s African American female charitable organizations – the Female Lundy Society and the Female Lovejoy Society. Mr. Gardiner was trustee of the African Baptist church.
The family lived for several decades on Second St. (first at #49 and then #67) in Arbor Hill in the close knit community bounded by Hall Place, Third St., Lark St. and Livingston Ave.
William Gardiner was fast friends and a business partner of Dr. Thomas Elkins. They were both officers of the Vigilance Committee, and involved in other political and community affairs. Elkins was the only black druggist in Albany in the 1800s, and during James’ childhood Elkins lived with the family. We think that it was the influence of Elkins that led Gardner to attend the Pharmacy College.
Gardner graduated from the Albany College of Pharmacy in 1888 when it was co-located with Albany Medical College on Eagle St. between Lancaster and Jay Streets. He was vice president of his class and won a cash prize of $20 from the Alumni Association for the best graduation thesis on “Percolation”.

Albany College of Pharmacy co-located with Albany Medical College on Eagle St.

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The same year he married Caroline Deyo from Jefferson St.; after their marriage they lived with his parents. His best friend, Robert Douge, served as his best man. In 1890 Douge would be only the second African American graduate of Albany Law School. In the late 1890s the couple moved to Livingston Ave.
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After graduation Gardner worked for the drugstore owned by Clement & Rice at the corner of Broadway and Clinton Ave., Huested’s Pharmacy at the corner of State and Eagle Streets, and for Thomas Pennington at his drugstore in Saratoga Springs (he was the only black druggist in the city at the time).*

State St., just below Eagle St.

It appears Gardner also had a love of music, spent some time working for a music store at 46 North Pearl St., and listed himself in several city directories as a music teacher But it’s also quite possible that it was difficult for Gardner to find employment as a druggist because of his race. (Thomas Pennington recounted the serious problems he encountered in Saratoga Springs because of racial prejudice.)
Sadly James died in late 1901 at the age of 37. He was found drowned in the river off New York City. We have been unable to discover the details. Why was he in New York City? How did he drown?
Caroline outlived James by another 18 years; never re-marrying and working at various jobs, including seamstress.
*Thomas Pennington apprenticed with Dr. Elkins in the mid-1850s, and they remained lifelong friends. The presence of Pennington in Albany speaks to the relationships in Albany and the larger world ante-bellum world of African American activism against slavery and for equal rights. Pennington’s father, the Rev. James Pennington was the president of the National Colored Convention in Rochester in 1853, attended by two Albany men – Stephen Myers who ran the Albany UGRR and William Topp, a member of the UGRR and of its Vigilance Committee. Pennington’s association with Elkins again demonstrates the outsize role and political importance of Albany, in both African American politics and the anti-slavery movement in the ante-bellum period.
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

John Swinburne, MD – Quarantine Pioneer

John Swinburne is mostly forgotten today, except for the Albany park named after him.
But he was medical pioneer whose worked had major impact on our city, New York State and our country.
An 1888 biography, “A Typical American,” made it clear that he was anything but — it calls him an eminent patriot, surgeon and philanthropist, “The Fighting Doctor,” and “one of Nature’s noblemen.”
John Swinburne was born in Lewis County in 1820; his father died when he was but 12. Despite having to work to support his mother and sisters, Swinburne was educated in local public schools and attended Albany Medical College, where he was first in his class (1846) and was appointed “demonstrator” in anatomy after graduation. He even started a private anatomy school, but soon entered private practice.
When the Civil War came he was made a commander in the New York National Guard, and as chief medical officer was put in charge of the sick at the Albany recruiting depot. He offered his services to Gen. McClellan as a volunteer battlefield surgeon, and was soon sent to Savage’s Station in Virginia .
As the Army of the Potomac retreated from that post on June 29, 1862, Swinburne was one of the few surgeons who remained behind to care for the sick and wounded, and he was noted for treating Union and Confederate soldiers alike. It was a month before all the wounded were removed to other hospitals, and Swinburne applied to Confederate General Stonewall Jackson for permission to visit the wounded Federal prisoners. Jackson’s pass made it clear that Swinburne was not to be treated as a prisoner of war.
He returned to New York, and remained in New York City, where his work on use of quarantines in a cholera epidemic brought him to the attention of the Mayor and the Governor. In 1864, he was made health officer of the Port of New York and immediately put to the task of establishing an effective quarantine facility, which he placed on islands, one of which, Swinburne Island, bears his name to this day. (It’s now part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.)
As we find today with other infectious diseases the cholera epidemic was spread through international travel. In 1865 he was credited with stopping a major outbreak in New York City from the ship “Virginia” from Liverpool and on another ship, “The England” through the use of quarantine.
“Doctor Swinburne … visited the steamers and hospitals at quarantine yesterday and reports them in excellent condition. There have been no cases of cholera on the Virginia for the past week. On the England none of the passenger have been attacked. There are ninety-eight in hospital, of which fifty-eight are convalescent”.
He retired from the Port and went to France, just in time for the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. With the support of the American expatriate community, he created the first ambulance corps in Paris to tend to the wounded, and for his efforts he was decorated as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, and  worked with the Red Cross of Geneva.
Swinburne returned to Albany, where he re-established his private practice and, in 1876, became Professor of Fractures and Clinical Surgery at Albany Medical College, and became one of the first to provide forensic testimony at trials involving medical evidence. He also found time to be elected Mayor (1880) and then to Congress (1884). While doing that he established the Swinburne Dispensary (clinic), which provided free medical services to as many as 10,000 patients a year.
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His anonymous biographer wrote:
“His quiet benevolence, yet bold aggressiveness in fighting error and corruption in high places, both in professional and official stations, has given his life a charm unequaled in the past, and has won for him the admiration of the masses of the people.”
He died in Albany on March 28, 1889, and is buried at Albany Rural Cemetery, Section 30, Lot 11.
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Carl Johnson from his blog Hoxsie.org .

Albany’s National Training School for Certified Nurses

The School was established circa 1890 as the Eastern New York School for Certified Nurses. Its founder was Dr. William Stillman, a graduate of Albany Medical College. At that time there was no other nursing school in the city; Albany Hospital’s nursing school didn’t open until 1897.
The role of nurses came to the forefront in the Civil War. But for a number of reasons it still wasn’t consider a totally respectable position for a woman in the late Victorian Gilded Age (unlike being a school teacher). But times changed, as they do, and progress marched on.
By 1901 the New York State Nurses Association was founded, the first state nurses association.
The National School was not-for-profit, and trained women in all aspects of nursing, including public health. By the second decade of the 20th century the importance, and value of school nurses and nurses in county and city health departments and “well-baby” clinics was firmly entrenched.
It was also a school open to all women. Reports from the early 1900s tell us that in 1905 at least 3 African American women were graduates.
The Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 drove home the importance of nurses, as did the thousands of nurses who volunteered in Europe during World War II. Women of all ages flocked to the front. Albany Hospital established and staffed a hospital for recuperating soldiers in Portsmouth, England.
By the 1920 the World War had not only proven that it was acceptable for “nice” girls work, but they got the job done.
In the mid 1920s the School was located at in a brownstone at 285-287 Lark St. Each 6 month course was packed with young women, who learned all aspects of nursing according to standardized scientific principles. The curriculum included didactic and clinical components.
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Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Albany Medical Center Hospital Hospital: a Brief History

Albany Med has played a key role in the City for about 170 years. Today, its mission is more critical than ever.

The Hospital was established in 1849. One of the founding physicians was Alden March, a farm boy from Worcester, Mass, who came to Albany after getting his MD from Brown University in 1820.

In 1834 he’s said to have established a first for New York State a practical school of anatomy and surgery, in this city. Several years later the Medical College (the fifth in the U.S.) was founded; it located on Eagle St.
Over time the need for a public hospital became apparent to Dr.March and several other local physicians.
Some histories say the first hospital was established in 1849 on Madison Ave. (then Lydius St.) on the corner of Dove St. (The building is still there.)

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First Hospital Building on Madison

By 1851 a new site was located on the corner of Eagle and Howard Streets, in the abandoned county jail. (The previous building became the site of the cholera hospital, a deadly infectious disease.)  The Albany Convention Center is on the Howard St. site today.

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Hospital on Eagle and Howard

In the late 1880s and early 1890s it became clear larger facilities were needed. By 1898 Albany Hospital moved to New Scotland Ave., where it has remained for over 120 years.
(That building on Howard St. subsequently housed the American Humane Association, the precursor to the American Humane Society. It originated the “Be kind to animals” slogan.)  The building was finally demolished around 1940.)
The new Hospital was a sprawling complex when it was built, with a nursing school and nurses dormitories. As we know, it dominates the landscape today, and is perhaps the largest employer in the City.

Hospital on New Scotland Rd. – circa 1900

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Hospital circa 1930

Hospital circa 1950

So thank to Dr. March, who understood the need to provide medical care to all Albanians, rich and poor, and a space where generations of doctors, (and then nurses), could obtain the needed clinical training.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Wadsworth Lab

The Wadsworth Laboratory is one of the pre-eminent public health laboratories in the nation, and has been for almost 120 years.

The first lab was established in 1901 on Yates St., between South Lake Ave. and Quail St. Originally it was the Anti-Toxin Laboratory, and while it conducted research on a variety of pathogens, a main focus was development and production of large quantities of diphtheria and tetanus anti-toxin. The anti-toxin was derived from inoculated horses that were stabled and co-located with the lab. (Procedures requiring sterile processes were generally conducted at the Bender Laboratory, around the corner on South Lake Ave. next to the Dudley Observatory. )

Over time the neighbors complaints about the horses (and other animals) grew louder. Finally, a farm was obtained on Route 155 (State Farm Rd.) in Guilderland. Today it’s the site of the Griffin Lab. In 1914 the head of the lab, Herman Biggs, M.D. was tapped to become Commissioner of the NYS Dept. of Health. Biggs appointed Augustus Wadsworth, M.D. as head of the Lab. Wadsworth would remain in that position for 30 years until 1945.

Under the leadership of Wadsworth the Lab moved to New Scotland Ave. after the first World War, greatly expanded its staffing, and its areas of research and applied laboratory sciences. For decades it’s been on the forefront of medical, scientific and epidemiological discoveries.

Perhaps most well known is the breakthough discovery of Nystatin, the first drug in the world to effectively and safely treat fungal infections, identified by 2 women, Dr. Rachel Brown and Dr. Elizabeth Hazen (who were in their 60s at the time – never underestimate the power of older women) working for the Lab.

Which brings us to a little known aspect of the Lab. Dr. Biggs and Dr. Wadsworth were both in the forefront of hiring women when others labs would not. If you look at the pictures of the earliest days of the Lab there are many women on staff. In later years staff rosters show a preponderance of female staff, including many in supervisory and management positions.

Dr. Wadsworth is revered for his pioneering work in creating rigorous laboratory standards used across the country, his focus on improving health care for NYS residents and for fostering the highest level of scientific research and inquiry; the reasons the Labs are named after him today.

The Lab is now the Wadsworth Center, with 3 locations: the Empire State Plaza, New Scotland Ave., and Guilderland, and carries on the tradition. It remains one of the most well-respected labortaories in the nation/ We’re lucky in New York State to have this resource.

(Most photos courtesy of the New York State Dept. of Health.)

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

Thomas Elkins – Albany’s Renaissance Man:Doctor, Dentist, Druggist, Inventor, Abolitionist, Community and Political Activist

Thomas Elkins was one of the most fascinating African-American men in Albany in the 19th century. He was born about 1819 in New York City. He came to Albany with his parents in the 1820s, and when in his early teens served as an apprentice to the druggist Herman Wynkoop at Wynkoop’s shop at Broadway and Maiden Lane (living in Wynkoop’s home at 14 Orange St.).*

Following his apprenticeship with Wynkoop he studied with a local dentist. (His obituary said they were associated in practice in Montreal and then Saratoga.)

Unlike other local African American men in Albany of the time Elkins was not opposed to the colonization movement. In 1847, when he was 28, he sailed to Liberia under the auspices of the Maryland Colonization Society. In 1848 Frederick Douglass’ newspaper “The North Star “reported he was also serving as a school superintendent as well as practicing dentistry.

Upon his return he entered into the study of medicine with Dr. Alden March, founder of Albany Medical College, and professor Dr. Thomas Hun. (There’s a reference in the “The North Star” to as student from Liberia, c. 1850, studying at the College – we believe that is Dr. Elkins.)

By 1850 Elkins is listed as a practicing dentist at 188 Lumber St. (now Livingston Ave.), home of his step-father, John Butler, his mother Sarah and his half-sisters. By 1852, he’s set up his own shop at 84 North Swan St., around the corner, and he’s still living at home with his mother who has become a widow. In 1855 he moved his apothecary shop to 790 Broadway (where he would remain for decades in the same general location). It was about this time he was appointed by Albany’s Mayor Nolan to be a city district physician.

It was also at this time he became politically active. Elkins is identified as the Secretary/Treasurer of the Vigilance Committee tasked with raising funds for the Underground Railroad (UGRR). During the Civil War he was appointed by Massachusetts Governor John Andrew as medical examiner for the recruits for the 54th Massachusetts “colored” regiment (you know it from the movie ‘Glory”), and the 55th regiment created to handle the overflow influx of African-American recruits.

Just after the War his mother dies and Elkins moves his residence to 67 Second St. near North Swan St. He also plunged into social and political activities. He attends the New York State Colored Convention in Albany in 1866, becomes the Vice President of the newly formed African American Literary Society (for men only), immerses himself in Republican politics (the 15th amendment granting African American men the right to votes was passed n 1870), and becomes part of a coalition to pressure the Albany Board of Education to integrate the High School. He’s an active member of the County Dental Society.

And he tinkers. Over about a decade he patents 3 inventions; the first was a quilting/ironing table The second invention was the most splendiferous commode you’ve ever seen – a veritable throne. His final patent was for the technology of one of the earliest refrigeration units (patent number 221,222 in 1879).

And over the next two decades his was a life well lived. He continues to practice, participates in the social and activities of the African –American Albany (he’s the first African –American to serve on a federal grand jury in Albany County).

Dr Elkins died in August 1900. His funeral at the Cathedral of All-Saints was thronged, and his pall bearers were the sons of Francis Van Vranken, his closest friend – a barber – who had been a member of the UGRR.

One of the newspaper obituaries makes it quite clear that, but for his race he would have become a licensed physician (although he was treated as if he was by most of Albany, including the police and the courts).

“‘Prejudice alone at his color has prevented him making a competence at his profession, as he is in the opinion of many competent to judge, one of the ablest physicians and dentists of this or any other age, either in this city or elsewhere”

*Wynkoop was related to high society of New York – the Lansings and the Gansevoorts, which probably opened doors for Elkins that would have been otherwise closed.

Albany, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Great Rock Fight

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest scientific society. (AAAS has about 130,000 members and publishes the journal “Science”.) It was founded in Albany 180 years ago!

Ebenezer-Emmons-1It all started on the corner Hudson Ave. and High St. (now covered by the Empire State Plaza) in the home of Ebenezer Emmons. It was there Emmons gathered a bunch of local geologists and from that small group the Association of American Geologists was formed in 1839. In 1848 the group became the AAAS.

Emmons was born in 1799 in Massachusetts and attended Williams College. He came to Albany and studied medicine at Albany Medical College and geology at the Rensselaer Institute in Troy (the precursor to RPI). He was the professor of obstetrics and natural history at the Medical College. (We love a man with diverse interests.) He also taught in Rensselaer.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzBut Emmons first love was geology. So at the same time he was teaching men how to deliver babies he was also the State Geologist for the northern district of the State.

Emmons named the Adirondack Mountains in 1837. (The earliest written use of a name “Rontaks” was in 1729 by a French missionary, based on the unwritten Mohawk word for the Adirondacks.) He was the first man to climb Mount Marcy.

Albany Takes Its Rocks Seriously.. Very Seriously

But Emmons is best known as “father of the Taconic System”. What the the heck is Taconic system? Emmons identified and dated the Taconic mountain range south of Albany. His findings were hugely controversial. Hugely. More than a heated argument.. and it went on for years.

The description of the “Taconic Controversy” by the late Gerald Friedman, professor at RPI, sums it up. It started as an argument with James Hall, Emmons’ assistant (who would later become the leading American paleontologist) that escalated dramatically.

“Emmons and Hall ‘dueled’ over the age of the Taconic rocks, a disagreement that became known as the “Taconic controversy”. Hall said they were younger, whereas Emmons claimed them to be older. This division led to suit and counter suit, favoring Hall. The argument over the Taconic fossils raged for many years. Ultimately Emmons was vindicated. The French scientist, Joachim Barrande, the chief student of European Paleozoic faunas, agreed with Emmons.”

How? Barande demonstrated that the fossilized fauna remains, trilobites, found in the Taconic rocks were consistent with fossilized remains in rocks he found outside Prague (called the Barrandian) Barande proved, in the early 1860s, that of the fossilized remains of fauna that the Taconic rocks were as old as his Barrandian rocks. Case closed. Yay Emmons.

Meanwhile Emmons was banned (BANNED!!!) from the practice of geology in the state of New York and sued Hall for slander and libel. In 1851, after losing the lawsuit, Emmons was hired by the state of North Carolina for the newly created position of State Geologist. He continued in that position until his death in 1863 (before Barande’s conclusions were widely accepted).

Back to the building

In 1901 a plaque was place on the building, “In the house, the home of Dr. Ebenezer Emmons, the first formal efforts were made in 1835 and again in 1839, toward the organization of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, by whose authority this tablet is erected 1901”

31780801543_2bd81a5b1e_bBy 1962 that corner of Hudson Ave and High St. housed Dinty’s Tavern, a favorite neighborhood bar. The building was demolished in the mid-1960s and no one knows what happened to the plaque.

We think this is another person/place/event Albany needs to honor (we’re keeping a list should anyone ever solicit our input). James Hall’s lab and office in Lincoln Park is on the National Historic Register. James Dana, who never lived in Albany, has a street and a park named after him. (Dana was nationally known geologist who basically went “viral” in the 1860s. Dana Natural History Societies, for women only, sprang up all over the country. One was established by the students of Albany’s Female Academy. Dana Park was dedicated in 1901 and the memorial horse trough installed in 1903. (Political clout and money can accomplish all sorts of things.)

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Even Barande has a stamp!

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PS. Friedman points out that Emmons and Hall are buried next to each other at the Albany Rural Cemetery!

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

Two Women in Albany Who Transformed Medicine – Dr. Rachel Brown and Dr. Elizabeth Hazen

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This is the story of two women in Albany whose discovery changed the world of medicine.

By the early 1950s there had been a number of advances that lead to the development of antibiotics (penicillin, tetracycline, etc.) for bacterial infections. But there was nothing for disease caused by fungal agents – acquired from a primary source (as is common in tropical climes) or secondary to antibiotic use (and chemotherapy). Fungal diseases can range from minor ailments – athlete’s foot, etc. – merely annoying and readily treatable with an OTC product, but they also can be severe and systemic – or in extreme cases – fatal if untreated.

But thanks to scientists from Albany that changed. Dr. Rachel Fuller Brown and Dr. Elizabeth Lee Hazen discovered the first medication that could effectively treat fungal infections without adverse human effects. The drug they discovered is on the World Health Organization’s “Essential List of Drugs” – a critical element in the medical tool kit to fight fungal infections that that can range from the merely annoying to the life threatening.

Rachel Fuller Brown
Rachel Brown was born in the late 1890s and raised mostly in Springfield, Mass. She attended nearby Mount Holyoke College (paid for a family friend). In 1920 she graduated with a double major in chemistry and history. By 1921 she’d earned an MS in organic chemistry from the University of Chicago. For several years she taught at a girl’s school, but then went on to Harvard and the University for Additional Graduate Work in chemistry and bacteriology, completing her Ph.D. thesis in 1926. But financial problems intervened, and she left without being awarded her doctoral degree.

10582269766_170dee6cb5_bBrown was hired by Dr. Augustus Wadsworth* (after whom the Wadsworth Lab is named) to work for the NYS Division of Laboratories and Research on New Scotland Ave (opposite Albany Hospital – the building is still there) in 1927. The lab, under the direction of Dr. Wadsworth, was internationally known for its work on immunology (diphtheria, typhoid, tetanus, tuberculosis, pneumonia, etc.) and environmental public health issue (water and food borne illnesses).

She settled into her life in Albany readily. Her major work focus in these years was development of a pneumonia vaccine. In 1933 she finally took her oral exam, was awarded her doctoral degree, and became Dr. Brown. She was a leader in the Albany’s chapter of the American Association of University Women. (AAUW), the City Club and active member of St. Peter’s Church.

Elizabeth Lee Hazen
Hazen was born in 1885 in Rich, Mississippi. She graduated with a BA in science in 1910. Initially she taught high school biology and physics, taking graduate courses during the summer, but then entered Columbia University in NYC. She received her Masters in Biology in 1917 (during World War I she was an Army lab tech), and her Ph.D. in microbiology in 1927 (doing research on ricin and the botulism toxin while working on her degree). After graduation she was staff bacteriologist at several teaching hospitals in NYC.

In 1931 she went to work for NYS Dept. of Health, Bacterial Diagnosis Laboratory Division in New York City. Hazen had major epidemiological successes – identifying the sources of food poisoning and anthrax out breaks. In 1944 Dr. Wadsworth, appointed Hazen head of a unit to investigate fungi and their relation to bacteria and other microbes. Over time she amassed her own fungal culture collection from soils she encountered during her travels.

Teamwork
In 1948 Hazen embarked on a long distance collaboration with Rachel Brown in the Albany lab, in an attempt to find a drug that would cure fungal illnesses. Hazen would identify promising cultures that might contain an organism that could fight fungal disease and mail them in mason jars to Brown in Albany., Brown would isolate the activate agent in the soil specimen and then mail it back to Hazen. In NYC it would be tested on to determine its efficacy and toxicity for humans. Finally after years of work, Hazen found sample in a cow pasture on a farm of a friend in Virginia. In 1950, from this sample Brown identified a substance that was effective – killing over 15 fungal variants, and was safe for humans. The same year they presented their finding to the National Academy of Sciences.

Success
They first named the drug fungicidin, but found that the name was already in use, changed it to “Nystatin” in honor of New York State. They worked with E.R. Squibb & Son to develop a safe method of mass production, and receive FDA approval; the drug was released for use in 1954, and was patented in 1957.

(As their work continued and showed promise, Hazen moved to Albany. Hazen ultimately settled in an apartment on State St. while Brown bought a house on Buckingham Drive. )

Royalties for nystatin totaled $13.4 million. Brown and Hazen donated half to a philanthropic foundation to further scientific research and the other half to support what became known as the Brown-Hazen Fund, to expand research and experimentation in biology and mycology (with a special focus on assisting women who wanted to pursue these careers). Between 1957 and 1978 the fund was the largest single source of nonfederal funds for medical mycology in the United States.

Both Hazen and Brown continued working for the Lab until their retirement. They received a number of awards and in 1975 were the first women to receive the American Institute of Chemists Chemical Pioneer Award.

Hazen’s book Laboratory Identification of Pathogenic Fungi Simplified (1960, with revised editions) is still in use today and is still cited in current scientific literature.

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*Wadsworth was man ahead of his time. If you look at the lab staff roster as early as 1921 about 80% of the professional and para-professional chemistry and bacteriology staff was female. Mind blowing for the time.

If you want to know more about these remarkable women, we recommend “The Fungus Fighters”, Richard S. Baldwin, Cornell University Press, 1981.

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

Dr. Mary Walker, Recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and her time in Albany

I came across this picture, taken on State St. in 1911. It’s photo of Dr. Mary E. Walker.

I had one of those lightbulb moments. My Gram used to tell me about a nice old lady in Albany who wore men’s clothing. who often lived at the YWCA on Steuben St. Gram said her brothers and male cousins used to try to knock off her silk top hat with snowballs. And then her uncle would “thrash” them.

To be honest, I filed it under “whatever”. Just another Gram story (there were hundreds – oft repeated) and the reference to men’s clothing meant nothing to me. (I wore jeans.. so what?) Yadda Yadda Yadda. Now I wish I paid more attention.

Dr. Mary Walker is the only female recipient of the Medal of Honor. Her story is remarkable.

She was born in Oswego in 1832 into a family of devoted Christian non–sectarian “free thinkers”. By 1855 she’d earned a medical degree from Syracuse Medical College (only the second women in the U.S. to do so). She set up practice in Rome NY, but volunteered with the Union Army when the Civil War started.

Her initial petition to serve as a physician in the Army Medical Corps was rejected. Yet she waded in, tending the wounded with selfless devotion (and performing surgery when necessary). Finally in 1864 President Lincoln approved her petition, providing the male physicians agreed. Again, she didn’t wait for permission and traveled to the join the Army of the Cumberland. Walker was met with hostility. She compounded her sin of gender by her eccentric dress – she wore bloomers and treated Confederate civilians. Wild rumors circulated. She was a lesbian, she had a high ranking officer lover, she was a spy. In spring 1864 she was captured by Confederate troops and served as a POW for a number of months until released in a prisoner exchange.

In 1865 President Andrew Johnson awarded her the Medal of Honor (she was also awarded a military disability pension for injuries suffered). When a review of recipients was performed in 1917, her name, with about 900 others (including Buffalo Bill Cody), was deleted from the list, thought to have not sufficiently met the standard for the award. In 1977 President Carter’s Administration restored the Medal.

After the War Walker became involved in a variety of social and political reforms including temperance, women’s suffrage and dress reform. In her early days she wore trousers underneath shortish skirts. Later she settled on a traditional Prince Albert coat, necktie and trousers. She was arrested for her “costume” on several occasions as she traveled across the country lecturing and fund raising for her causes.*

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It was the issue of women’s rights that consumed most of her attention in later years. Consequently, she spent much time in Washington D.C. lobbying Congress and attempting to sway the New York State Legislature. In the decade or so leading up to the first NYS referendum on a woman’s right to vote in 1915 (which was defeated) she was a constant fixture in Albany. Sadly it seems that her eccentricities deflected from her lobbying efforts.

(Dr. Walker suffered an injury in 1915 and retired to her home in Oswego where she died in 1917. )

As I dimly recall from Gram stories the uncle who would “thrash” the boys for taunting Dr. Walker was a prominent figure in Albany Civil War veterans’ organizations. Thinking back, it seems he expressed no special warmth for Dr. Walker, but did demand the young men of Albany treat her with deference and respect for the role she’d played in the War.

*In 1982 the U.S. Postal Service issued a 20 cent stamp that featured a curiously feminine “very girly” image of Dr. Walker. She probably would not have approved.

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Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor