This post written and copyrighted by Doris McCraw
As I continued my research on early women doctors, I came across the Keokuk School of Physicians and Surgeons. Harriett Leonard, one of the earliest women doctors in the Pikes Peak Region, had graduated from this school. Others who came later were also graduates of this school. I had grown up near Keokuk, which sits right on the edge of the river, and spent many an hour there, along with swims and fishing in the Mississippi river. I thought I would share with you some of the history of this town.
Mark Twain said of Keokuk in his book “Life on the Mississippi”, ‘I lived there in 1857…The town has a population of fifteen thousand now, and is progressing with a healthy growth. ..for Keokuk has a reputation of being a beautiful city. ‘ Twain’s brother Orion and mother lived there for a time.
The town is named for the Sauk leader Chief Keokuk. It is rumored he is buried in Rand Park. I remember visiting the park and being fascinated by the statue of him.
In 1828 the American Fur Trading Company had a post there. In 1837 a young Robert E. Lee, an engineer for the government, surveyed the rapids near Keokuk as a source of water power. In that same year Issac Galland platted out the town itself.
Thirteen years later in December of 1850 the Keokuk School of Physicians and Surgeons located there. The school was one of the early institutions to become co-ed after women had demanded the right to become physicians. Although Elizabeth Blackwell had graduated from the Geneva Medical School in upstate New York in 1849, the exact date Keokuk’s school became co-ed is lost to time.
At the time of the Civil War Keokuk took on a greater role. Due to its accessibility for travel and the above mentioned medical school, the town became a destination for the wounded in that conflict along with a shipping point for new soldiers. At one time there were five hospitals in town. A number of the wounded who died in Keokuk were buried there. As a result Keokuk has the only national cemetery in Iowa, and it is one of the original twelve so designated. I had vague memories of visiting there. For more information on this cemetery: http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/national_cemeteries/Iowa/Keokuk_National_Cemetery.html
Andrew Carnegie’s Bridge Company built a railroad bridge across the Mississippi in 1871 and Keokuk was a link in the railroad lines that were crossing the country.
I have memories of crossing the Mississippi from Hamilton, Illinois to Keokuk, Iowa. I was never fond of the bridge, for the river is quite wide at this point, but the lock and dam fascinated me. I am sure there have been changes to the area over the years since I lived there, but the history…oh that is a priceless gift I was given.
The whole region is full of stories and perhaps I will take you down memories lane with me as I continue my research. Until next time.
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