"No night was ever too dark or road too long for her”: Ella Ware, M.D., the country doc, a state-educated woman practicing medicine in early 20th-century rural Texas



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Around the turn of the twentieth century, women carved out paths for themselves as physicians in the young field of modern medicine in Texas, graduating at a rate of about one per year from the state’s first medical school, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB). Little research on these women exists. In fact, the majority of work on women physicians in the history of medicine concentrates on the urban Northeastern United States, the location of the country’s first medical schools to admit women. Historical work is lacking on women who later undertook the path in the Southern, Western, and rural United States.

A study on the origins, education, practice, and social life of Ella Ware, M.D., the second woman to graduate from the Texas medical school, aids in addressing this void. Primary sources, including artifacts, oral histories, newspaper articles, and various records, particularly certificates of birth and death, are used to reconstruct her experience. Examples of contemporary physicians, particularly other women and rural physicians, are drawn on for further period context.

Ware decided to go to medical school in 1895, gained her degree in 1899, and practiced until 1949, all with little contention and more flexibility than accrued by many women physicians in the Northeast. Rejecting an offer to teach at the medical school, she made a name for herself in rural South Texas as “the country doc,” working in general medicine with a large focus on maternal care. Yet, just being a woman, acting outside of her period’s gender role, and a rural physician in rugged terrain, required ingenuity on her part. She garnered respect from both her community and colleagues.

A study of Ware’s adventurous life uncovers factors that help explain the overall positive reception of female doctors in turn of the twentieth century Texas. Embracing aspects of her gender role helped Ware as she carved out a place in a male-dominated field. It suggests more research is needed on women physicians in understudied regions.



Ella Ware, Stockdale, Texas, Woman physician, Rural medicine, History of medicine