Missouri’s first female M.D. practiced trade in Hannibal


This image, identified as Dr. Margaret Schmidt, was posted to “FamilySearch” by user “jesslinq” in 2018. Dr. Schmidt lived in Hannibal from 1861 until her death in 1909.


MARY LOU MONTGOMERY


Some 6,500 residents called the emerging river port of Hannibal, Missouri, home in 1860; settlers from the south were seeking available farm land, and developers from the east came to town in search of investment and merchandising opportunities.

In Hannibal at the time, there were first generation Germans and Italians, those of Irish and Scandinavian decent, immigrants from Switzerland and Russia, and more. Such was the mix of nationalities on Main Street, that merchants used logos on their store fronts and in advertisements, so that traders of all nationalities could know where to shop. Missouri remained a slave state, but the eastern influence created a sharp divide among the population over the slavery issue.

Up until the years leading up to the Civil War, Hannibal proper consisted of families settled into the blocks which had been laid out by the town’s earliest settlers, up and down steep hills and low into the valleys carved by the ancestral flow of the Mississippi River.

But a new decade dawned as the pre-war years emerged. Beyond the division where Market Street veered to the south and Broadway extended up the hillside to the northwest, there existed woodlands and prairie, wildlife and game, and a wealth of land ripe for investment and development.

As learned in a previous story, Dr. R.H. Griffith opened up the land he owned - wedged between what was then known as Market Extension to the north and the Plank Road to the south - establishing streets and building lots in an area once considered rural by all who knew Hannibal.

Still outside of the city’s limits, the new streets included Chestnut and Willow, Houston and Arch. Market Extension became Broadway Extension, and the Plank Road became Market Street. Expansion moved westward.


New minister

In the fall of 1861, the Rev. Carl Hermann Schmidt was called to Hannibal by the Methodist’s Missouri Conference, following the 18th session at Glasgow. He was to staff the pulpit at a new Methodist Church - Hannibal’s third - known as the German Methodist Episcopal Church. It was located on the south side of Broadway Extension, on one of the lots recently sold by Dr. Griffith.

Rev. Schmidt and his wife, Margueretta Katherine Ruck de Schell Steininger Schmidt, subsequently moved to Hannibal, and remained here for the remainder of their natural lives.

Rev. Schmidt, about 40 years of age at the time he arrived in Hannibal, had left his native Germany in 1849, sailing to the United States. He served a pastorate at what some family papers describe as “the old Methodist Church on Wash Street” in St. Louis.

In 1851 he was married to Margueretta, a young widow, in a ceremony in Cole County, Mo.

The newlyweds had a plan during their early married years; it was Rev. Schmidt’s dream to become a missionary to Japan. So that she could accompany her husband and assist with his ministry, she studied at the Missouri Medical College, located on the corner of Gratiot and Seventh streets, St. Louis. The school was founded by Dr. J.N. McDowell.

Women weren’t allowed to earn a diploma from the medical school during the 1850s, and weren’t listed among the graduates, but they were able to audit the courses. After presumably completing the required coursework via audit, Mrs. Schmidt sought, and was granted, a license to practice medicine in Missouri. Family lore reveals that she was the first women to obtain such a license in the state of Missouri. With this license, she could accompany her husband to Japan.

Unfortunately, Rev. Schmidt was unable to pass the physical required of departing missionaries, due to bronchial limitations.

Instead, during the next few years he followed the assignments given to him by the Missouri Conference, and family lore tells that Mrs. Schmidt in turn practiced medicine in the towns where her husband’s assignments took them, including Hannibal.


Leaving the ministry

Rev. Schmidt grew weary of following the dictates of the Missouri Conference, and made the decision to leave the ministry during the Civil War years. He accepted a job as department secretary of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad Company, a position which he held until his death in 1884.

Family information tells that Mrs. Schmidt continued to practice medicine in Hannibal until 1904, when she retired and moved in with her son, Dr. Richard Schmidt (1861-1924.) She died in 1909, at the age of 79, and is buried beside her husband in Riverside Cemetery south of Hannibal.


Churches served

Available information online about Rev. Schmidt’s ministry, and Mrs. Schmidt’s medical training, is scarce.

What is known:

Their first child, Christian Martin Schmidt, was born on April 1, 1853, and was baptized on April 24, 1853, at the Zion Methodist-Episcopal Church, Dutch Hill Prairie, St. Clair, Ill. Rev. Schmidt served that church from November 1852 to October 1854.

Their second child, William Adolphas Schmidt, was born in St. Charles County in November 1854.


Where they lived

The Schmidts spent most of their Hannibal years living on Hope Street, which was part of Griffith’s Addition.

In 1877 they lived on the northwest corner of Hope and Vine (later renamed Griffith). That property is catty-cornered from what is now Scott’s Chapel United Methodist Church.

In 1894, when Mrs. Schmidt was a widow, she lived with her daughter Emily at 816 Center St.

At the turn of the century, Mrs. Schmidt lived with her son and daughter in law, Dr. Richard and Minnie F. Schmidt, at 1203 Broadway (later renumbered 1209 Broadway).


Schmidt children

The Schmidt children, as found on Ancestry.com:

(Christian) Martin G. Schmidt 1853-1873

William Adolphus Schmidt 1854-1899

Edward Carl Rudolph Schmidt 1857-1905 (Riverside Cemetery)

Albert John Schmidt 1859-

Richard Schmidt 1861-1924

Matilda (Louise) Schmidt Arnold 1866-1956

Emily Rosalie (Grant) Schmidt Hutchings 1871-1960

Carl Hermann Schmidt 1875-1880

Henri Schmidt 1878-

The family’s two daughters attended Hannibal’s West School on Market Street, and both graduated from Hannibal High School. In addition, they both taught in Hannibal for a few years, before moving to St. Louis.

Note: Margaret Schmidt’s listing as a physician was only found in one reference, in the 1895 Hannibal City directory. As far as newspapers are concerned, one listing of her as a physician was found in a search of available digital newspapers.


The Feb. 11, 1858 Tri-Weekly Messenger contained this listing of Hannibal’s churches and their ministers. Note there were two Hannibal Methodist churches. Circa 1861, Rev. Carl H. Schmidt came to Hannibal to staff the new German Methodist Episcopal Church. The newspaper was accessed via genealogybank.




This undated photo from Steve Chou’s collection shows the building, at right, that housed Dr. Richard Schmidt’s office and home until his death in 1924. The address was originally 1203 Broadway, and was later changed to 1209 Market. In more recent history, this dwelling was replaced by what is well remembered as the medical office of Dr. John H. Walterscheid, at 1209 Broadway.



This sketch, believed to be of the Missouri Medical College at St. Louis, was included in the 1848-1849 annual catalogue, accessed via Digital Commons@Becker, curated by Bernard Becker Medical Library.




On April 24, 1875, Dr. Margaret Schmidt advertised in the Hannibal Clipper newspaper that she was not involved, nor had any knowledge of a grave disturbance which took place at Riverside Cemetery. Physicians associated with the Marion County Medical Society were suspected to have been involved in exhuming a body for a post-mortem examination, although to a man they each denied involvement. Newspaper accessed via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s web site. The story of this incident can be found at: https://www.maryloumontgomery.com/single-post/2017/10/13/-ghouls-at-work-in-hannibal-following-unspeakable-tragedy



Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on Amazon.com by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Montgomery.editor@yahoo.com Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com

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