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Early Hannibal physician had unique distinction as being among the first of her gender to earn an MD

This portrait of Dr. M. Augusta Fairchild is included in: A Woman of the Century: Fourteen Hundred-seventy Biographical Sketches edited by Frances Elizabeth Willard, Mary Ashton Rice Livermore


M. Augusta Fairchild was among the first woman in the United States to earn a degree as a medical doctor. Born in the state of New Jersey in 1834 or 1835, she graduated from the New York Hygeio-Therapeutic College in 1859 or 1861.

In 1857, the school had been authorized by the New York State Legislature to confer the degree of Doctor of Medicine. It was one of the first medical schools in the United States to admit women candidates for the Doctor of Medicine Degree, and Dr. Fairchild was among the first graduates.

Professionally associated with the medical school’s founder, Dr. R.T. Trall, in the early part of the 1860s she moved to St. Anthony’s Falls, Minn., where she joined in the operation of the Western Hygeian Home for invalids. The mineral waters bubbling from the area’s Chalybeate Springs contributed to the establishment of this resort as the largest water cure facility in the United States.

Leaving Minnesota after a year in a half, in 1863 she associated Dr. Z.P. Glass in the operation of Sunny-Side Water-Cure in Cambridge City, Ind.

During the years of the Civil War, she was convinced by a colleague (possibly Dr. Glass) to make a professional visit to Hannibal, Mo. Here, she treated patients for a time, building a successful practice that convinced her to establish a permanent clinic in the Midwest.

In November 1866, Dr. Fairchild and Dr. Glass (Hygienic Physicians) were practicing together in Quincy, Ill., according to an advertisement in the Daily Illinois State Journal, Springfield.

Hannibal property

In 1871, when William Hubbard subdivided the property at the intersection of the Hannibal and Paris State Road (Pleasant Street) and the Hannibal Cut-Off Road (St. Mary’s Avenue) Dr. M. Augusta Fairchild owned the property at what is now known as the wedge between St. Mary’s Avenue and U.S. 61. Early plat maps show a house facing St. Mary’s Avenue, and it is possible that Dr. Fairchild made her home there while treating patients in Hannibal. She was listed along with Dr. Glass and his family in the 1870 census in Mason Township, Hannibal. (Mason Township includes all of Hannibal, and ends at the Minnow Creek bridge along West Ely Road.)

The water cure

A trained Allopath, Dr. Fairchild was one of the originators of the “water cure” treatment in this country, and she specialized in “motion treatments.” She believed that water consumption should constitute at least 8 glasses of water daily, in addition to external water treatments. According to her biography published in the “The History of Adams County Illinois,” in her treatments she used “a steam propelling apparatus, capable of applying vibrations, rubbings, kneadings, oscillations, percussion, etc., with most agreeable and remarkable effect. … In addition to this she has various kinds of baths, as electric, vapor, hot air, electro-vapor, electro-thermal, spray, douche, etc.”

An author

During her career, Dr. Fairchild was a published author and frequent public speaker on the topics of women and health. The doctor was quoted in Women and Hygiene, Chapter LII, published in the Soil and HealthraryLib:

She asked: are female doctors acceptable; do the people receive them? "Yes," she answers, "and there is a great demand for them. 'Sick sisters' are everywhere. Young girls are sick; they apply to a male physician; he gives drugs, which fasten her name on his books as a life-patient. From year to year she drags through girlhood and if she is strong enough to live in spite of her 'remedies,' she enters with a broken-down constitution upon womanhood . . ."

Among her books were: “How to be well” published in 1879.

In 1885 she obtained a license to practice medicine in Missouri. She opened at office on the southwest corner of Fifth and Center in Hannibal, and had a new $6,000 house constructed near Hannibal by Valentine G. Ried, contractor, of Quincy, Ill.

She also served as a professor of gynecology at the St. Louis Medical College for a time, according to a story published in the Quincy Daily Herald on Nov. 25, 1910.

Her wardrobe

In her life story published in “The History of Adams County Illinois” in 1879, she described her early attitude toward restrictions put on women, both in the way they were to dress and their family role.

“In the matter of dress, she had very radical opinions. She could not be persuaded to wear corsets, though everyone said the form of a young girl would be very ugly without them. She thought girls were beautiful enough as God made them, that it was wrong to take one word from the book of nature as written in the human form, and foolish, certainly to add anything.”

Her Quincy clinic

In March 1877, Dr. Fairchild purchased a residential property on the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Broadway in Quincy, Ill., and converted it to suit the needs of the Fairchild Sanitarium. The southern-facing building was a two-story colonial, featuring pillars across the front, with a sloping lawn. The facility was designed for the care of invalid and elderly women.

Diseases Dr. Fairchild treated included: Dyspepsia, Paralysis, Rheumatism, Weak Lungs, Obstinate Constipation, Torpidity of the Liver, General Debility and Imperfect Circulation.

Dr. Glass was also associated with the Quincy clinic.

The 1880 census listed the occupants of the house:

1880 census, Quincy

Maria A. Fairchild, female, 45, movement cure

Zachariah P. Glass, white, male, 60, consulting physician

Eliza A. Glass, white, female, 50, doctor’s wife

Marthy McFadon, 25, patient, dyspepsia

Amelia E.H. Doyon, 32, dyspepsia

J. S. Herrick, 55, dyspepsia

John B. Chamberlain, 48, pharyngitis

Eyeenia R. Chamberlain, 24, dyspepsia

Mary E. Elmer, 23, chronic bronchitis

Effie Griffith, 23, dyspepsia

Homie Strother, 24, dyspepsia

John H. Shepherd, 22, nervous disability

Delice Millar, 42, bronchitis

Mary S. Norris, 32, pneumonia

Christinia Saur, 36, dyspepsia

John W. Thomas, 31 nervous disability

Ida Hamilton, servant, 15

Minnie L. Baker, servant, 19

The clinic remained in operation off and on until 1902, when failing health forced Dr. Fairchild to retire.

Adopted daughters

Dr. Fairchild adopted two daughters. Amy Winifred Weingartner Fairchild Grace was born in 1888 and died in 1965. Maude Fairchild Masson was born in 1875. When Dr. Fairchild retired, she made her home with Maude and family, first in El Paso, Texas, then in Los Angeles, Calif.

Her death

Dr. Fairchild died in August 1923 at Central Hospital in Los Angeles. She was buried at Forest Lawn cemetery.

This voucher, dated in the 1880s, is a billing statement from Dr. Fairchild’s Hygeian Home and Movement Center at 537 Broadway, Quincy, Ill. Source: National Library of Medicine.

An advertisement for Dr. Glass and Dr. Fairchild’s medical practice in Quincy, Ill., was published in the Daily Illinois State Journal, Springfield, Ill., on Nov. 12, 1866.

Dr. Fairchild advertised her sanatorium in Quincy, Ill., in the Phrenological Journal and Science of Health, Vol 99 to 101.

Plat map: This is section of the 1871 plat map of the Hubbard Subdivision, located on the northern boarder by what is now known as Pleasant Street. Just to the south, in lots numbered 1 and 2, is property owned at the time by Dr. M. Augusta Fairchild, one of this country’s first female medical doctors.

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