The following excerpt, about Dr. Richardson was written by Aileen Carney Sweeney and taken from the book, "Women Belong in History Volume II,", edited by Jane Spellman. Visit the Herkimer County Historical Society Gift Shop to obtain a copy of the book.
JENNIE MAY RICHARDSON MD
Jennie May Richardson was born May 11, 1862, in Frankfort, NY. Jennie was the second child of Thomas and Harriet Richardson. Jennie's father was a very successful and prominent Ilion attorney, Thomas Richardson. Thomas Richardson married Harriet Dygert, the daughter of Judge John B. and Elizabeth (Devendorf) Dygert of Frankfort, NY on April 12, 1859.
Jennie's three siblings were: Carrie L. Richardson (Aug 12, 1860 - Sept 22, 1948), Arleigh D. Richardson (August 7, 1864 - October 9, 1945) and Lillian L. (Richardson) Shepherd (November 30, 1867 - December 21, 1949).
Jennie moved with her family, in 1865, from Frankfort to Ilion on West Main Street. By 1870, a large Victorian, 29-room, mansion was completed for the family. It was in this mansion where Jennie would spend a very long life with her sisters. Her older sister, Carrie Richardson, returned to Ilion after a two-year teaching career in Elmira and spent the rest of her life serving the community. Youngest sister, Lilian Richardson, married physician, Dr. Lucian H. Shepherd in 1899. Upon the death of her young husband in 1903, Lilian returned, with her very young son, to live in the Ilion Richardson home with her sisters and mother.
Arleigh Dygert Richardson, Jennie's only brother, graduated from the Ilion Academy in 1882 and from Yale University in 1886. Arleigh married Alice Hyde Shepard. He and his wife raised their two children in Ilion; Arleigh D. Richardson, Jr. and Elizabeth Richardson. Arleigh was a partner in his father's Ilion law practice. He worked and resided in Ilion his entire career. He served on many boards and as Village Attorney, President of the School, Water and Cemetery Boards. Arleigh D. Richardson died, at the age of 81, in Ilion on October 9, 1945.
Jennie was educated in Ilion schools and graduated, with her sister Carrie, from the Ilion Academy in 1878 with her sister Carrie. Jennie earned the class First Prize for Essays. Carrie was the Class Valedictorian. Both Jennie and Carrie began their college studies at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. They studied there from 1879 through 1881. Both finished their undergraduate studies at Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts. Jennie graduated from Smith College in 1884 with a BA degree. Her sister, Carrie, also graduated from Smith in 1884.
Jennie returned to Ilion and began a career as a substitute teacher in the Ilion schools. In 1884 she was appointed as a Latin and history teacher in the senior department of the Ilion high school. She left Ilion to teach and serve as acting principal, at a school in South Norwalk, Connecticut, in 1886.
Jennie began her medical training, in 1889, at The Woman's Medical College of the New York Infirmary in New York City. The school was founded by Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell and her sister, Dr. Emily Blackwell. Jennie earned her MD degree in the 1892 in a class that consisted of forty women. She served her internship in an outpatient infirmary during what would be one of New York City's worst epidemics of measles.
She vividly recalled her days of practicing medicine in New York City in an interview in a Utica newspaper article published on May 18, 1952 when she was 90 years old. She stated that "children died like fleas" after the measles developed into bronchial pneumonia. "The winters", she recalled "were pretty bad and during that time measles broke out and disease spread like wild-fire. We worked day and night in an effort to check the epidemic. Sorrow invaded almost every home in New York's East Side when loved ones were claimed by death."
Working in the clinic provided Dr. Richardson with a wide-range of experience. "Every kind of case was brought in and as many as 50 or 60 patients were treated in two or three crowded hours." Nighttime emergency calls were a normal part of the job.
Dr. Richardson had a privileged upbringing and prosperous home life in Ilion and it was in stark contrast to the lives of the patients she treated in the slums of New York. She saw firsthand the poor living conditions, with inadequate sanitary facilities, and over crowed living arrangements, in apartments and homes, where she made house calls. Oftentimes she would make house calls at night but was never afraid. "We always made sure to carry an oversized bag at night so no one could mistake our mission."
Dr. Richardson reported that "lady doctors" took an important part in aiding the unfortunate of the slums. Prescriptions were distributed free of charge when patients could not afford to pay. Dr. Richardson mentioned that Catholic clergy cooperated in helping the "lady doctors" treat the poor. "I know of instances where only a priest could solve the problem. They were always ready and willing to help us," she said.
She never specialized in any one area of medicine because she believed it was best to become a good general practitioner first. She was however interested in nose and throat medicine and studied it at Roosevelt Hospital.
For five years, she was the examining physician for the Working Girls Vacation Society. She practiced medicine in New York City. She opened her medical practice on 73rd Street and assisted at the clinic where she did her internship. "It was a time when Dr. Richardson, fresh out of the Woman's Medical College of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, worked 63 hours at a stretch in order to save human lives from one of the nation's worst epidemics of measles which developed into pneumonia." She briefly returned to Ilion, in 1900, to be with her mother. Jennie's father, Thomas Richardson, died on October 19, 1900 at the age of 70 years old. While in Ilion in 1902, she addressed the Ilion teachers on the subject of the relation of the school to the health and physical well-being of children.
Jennie permanently returned to Ilion in 1905 and joined her sister, Carrie, in caring for their mother. During this time, Jennie frequently returned to New York City to continue her physician duties with the Working Girls' Vacation Society and continue working in the clinic. Mrs. Harriet Richardson died, at the age of 70 years, in January 1906. Jennie stopped practicing medicine at that time.
Jennie became a member of the Ilion Traveler's Club in 1906 and served as its President in 1910-11. She was a charter member of the Ilion Shakespeare Club. She was also involved with affairs of the Ilion Alumni Association. In 1908, she as appointed to a committee of three members whose task was to convince the Board of Education of the importance of adding a music teacher to the staff.
Dr. Jennie Richardson was also included, like her sister Carrie, in the 1914-1915 edition of "Woman's Who's Who of America - A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada". She served on the Medical and Hospitals Committee of The Herkimer County Home Defense Committee during World War I.
Dr. Richardson worked towards the founding of the Ilion Hospital, which incorporated in 1906 under the name of the Ilion Emergency Hospital. Land owned by F. Tucker, was the site of the hospital building and was adjacent to the Richardson family home on West Main Street. Former Ilion resident and typewriter tycoon, Henry Harper Benedict, donated $40,000 toward its construction, and $5,000 for its first year of operation. Officials laid the cornerstone in 1908. On, June 19, 1909 the hospital opened. Dr. James N. VanderVeer of Albany gave the dedicatory address. There were two floors, six beds in each of two wards and a maternity ward. Miss Ruth Yale, the first superintendent, was paid $60 monthly while a janitor earned $30. Ruth Yale served as the Superintendent until 1943. In 1944, during World War II, the hospital added a new unit costing $134,324. The equipment cost $30,000 of which $15,000 constituted pledges. Ilion Hospital changed the name to Mohawk Valley General Hospital in 1964 after a new addition was completed. In 1971, the Mohawk Valley Nursing Home addition to the hospital was constructed and opened. Sadly, the hospital ceased operation in 1991.
Jennie Richardson served as president of the Ilion Hospital Women's Association Board for 39 years. The organization raised funds to purchase materials for sheeting, pillowcases and other supplies needed for the institution. In the fall of 1947, she declined to be reelected President of the group. They elected her honorary president of the group. She also served as Chairman of the Fifth District Federated Women's Club. A February 2, 1948 Observer Dispatch newspaper headline summed up Jennie's civic contributions with this phrase, "She's Ilion's No. 1 Citizen" and she certainly was.
She lived with her sisters in the house built by her father. They raised her nephew, Thomas Shepherd, and continued to serve the community. Her nephew, Thomas Shepherd, also served on the Ilion Hospital board as its President. Jennie made a life-long impression on her nephew. He recalled an incident in his memoir papers that are available in the Ilion Library. He wrote about a night when the security alarm system went off in the house.
"I was but a little child but I can well recall my Aunt Jennie, the doctor, lighting a little taper lamp, taking her pistol and going down to the area in question. I thought her as being just about the bravest individual alive."
"The life and work of Dr. Richardson are of great historical significance. Not only was she the first of her sex to enter the medical profession from Ilion, but she made a far-reaching and long-living contribution to humanity and society in general." - Utica newspaper article May 18, 1952
Dr. Jennie Richardson died on January 18, 1958 in her beloved Ilion Hospital. She was 95 years old and survived by her nephew, Thomas Shepherd, with whom she still resided in the family home. The Richardson-Shepherd family plot in the Ilion Armory Hill Cemetery is her final resting place; that is if she is still resting. Colin Shepherd, great-grandnephew of Dr. Richardson, recently recounted that his mother, Leona Shepherd, felt and saw the spirit of Aunt Jennie, at the top of the stairs in the Richardson-Shepherd home long after Jennie died.
Aileen Carney Sweeney
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