This post written and copyrighted by Doris McCraw
We can document Julia E. Holmes, Harriet A. Leonard and Mary Helen Barker Bates in Colorado in 1878. These were early doctors, but there is one who precedes them all. The first documented woman physician, to the best of my knowledge, was Alida C. Avery. She arrived in Colorado in 1874, two years before Colorado became a state. She located in Denver and set up a practice at 339 Twentieth Street, on the corner of Champa. According to the ad in the Daily Rocky Mountain News Dated June 13, 1874, her office hours were from 10-12 and 3-5.
Alida Cornelia Avery was born June 11, 1833 in Sherburne, New York to William and Hannah Avery. Her mother died in 1842 when Alida would have been around nine. It is said she taught school at sixteen but in 1857 she began her medical studies at the Pennsylvania Medical College. She studied there one year. She eventually attended the New England Medical College in Boston where she received her MD in 1862.
In 1865 she joined the faculty of Vassar College as a professor and the resident physician. She remained there for nine years, at which time she left and moved to Colorado. The article in the Rocky Mountain News quotes the ‘Poughkeepsie News’ as saying that during her tenure not a single death occurred among her pupils. The Rocky Mountain News article also states that she usually had around four hundred in her care at any one time.
Alida was also involved in the suffrage movement. When it looked like Colorado would attain statehood a Territorial Women’s Suffrage Society was organized and on January 10th of 1876 at the meeting in Denver Alida C. Avery was elected president of that organization. She remained active in the movement throughout her years in Colorado and after moving to California in 1887.
Alida also strove to become part of the two medical societies that began in Denver in the early years, but they did not discuss allowing women until 1877. Even then they were still denied membership. By 1881 when Colorado started licensing physicians that no longer held true.
Dr. Alida Avery died on September 22, 1908 in San Jose California. Her obituary on ancestry reads as follows: San Jose, Sept 23 – Dr. Alida C. Avery, widely known as a physician and a woman suffragist, and for years prominent in the San Jose Woman’s Club, died yesterday. She was a graduate of Vassar and later of the New England Female Medical College and the Boston University School of Medicine. Her property was lost in the San Francisco fire of 1906 and she died penniless, aged 76 years. A brother, Dr. J. Dixon Avery of Pittsburgh and a sister Mrs. Harriet Bowen of Atchison, Kansas survive her.
As you can tell, even in the end all the facts are not correct, but what a life this woman lead. What determination and passions for what she believed. There is a lot more to learn of this pioneer, some of which just wouldn’t fit in this post. A women we should not forget.
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