Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Dr Elizabeth C. Keller

The following is an excerpt from the book Biography of Ephraim McDowell, M.D., by Mrs. M.T. Valentine, his granddaughter. The book includes biographical sketches of doctors of the time, including Elizabeth C. Keller, whose career has been discussed within an article on the Bowditch school at the Jamaica Plain Historical Society web site. I've bypassed similar information in the quoted sketch, and jumped directly to the Jamaica Plain-related information.

The 1885 Boston Directory places Dr Keller at Rockview and Green sts. In 1905, she is listed practicing at 46 St John st, with a home address of 235 Forest Hills st. If the tone of the quoted sketch borders on hagiography, I'd count it up to the times - the people of the late 19th Century were not shy about piling it on. No doubt Dr. Keller was an admirable physician and citizen.

Addendum: The Rockview and Green address made me think of the Jamaica Club house at the same corner. I little poking around verifies that the Jamaica Club did, in fact, buy the house from Dr Keller. An 1884 fire insurance map shows the property in her posession, and a Boston Globe article dated Feb. 7, 1890 tells of a Jamaica Club vote to buy the house. An article from July 7 tells us that the club had paid $20,000 for the property in April. Since the house - and Rockview street - don't show up on the 1874 map, I suspect that Dr Keller had it built between 1875, when she was appointed to her position at the New England Hospital for Women, and 1884. The house can be seen in a post card view at the JP Historical Society site here.

"But it is in the department of surgery where Dr Keller has exhibited qualities which justly place her in the front rank, not only among women, but among surgeons. During the twenty years in which she has held the position of Senior Operating Surgeon at the New England Hospital her terms of service have been full of thorough, ingenious, and progressive work, including not only minor surgery, but the reduction of fractures, amputations,, and abdominal surgery. A true optimist, Dr Keller carries the inherent principles of success into the operating-room, where her quiet, cheerful mien marks her as one in full command of the situation. As an operator she is cool and deliberate, yet prompt and decided; cautious, but ready; deft-handed and fertile in resource. From the first incision each movement tells, and, with no appearance of hurry, work moves rapidly on. To her corps of internes she is an inspiration; each step in the work is made an object lesson. Knowing the vital importance of correct emergency treatment, she instructs them in improvising apparatus from material at hand, and many an appliance, made up from the wood-house and attic, has, by its ready utility, enforced essential principles in surgery never to be forgotten.

Great as she is in her profession, Dr. Keller has that genius of character that would give her prominence in whatever position she might fill. She has a commanding presence, a fine physique, and manners that are affable and magnetic. Thus she wins her way without effort. She is ready and forceful speaker upon various effort. She is a ready and forceful speaker upon various subjects, and her interest is vivid whether the occasion be the dedication of a new school-house, the presentation of graduate diplomas, the rehearsal of the last interesting case, or the discussion of some vital topics of the day.

All questions pertaining to the advancement of the world, particularly of women, lie very close to her heart. Broad and catholic in spirit, generous and forgiving toward human frailty, she can yet be rightously indignant in the face of wrong and fearless in its denunciation.

That she can carry so much responsibility in her profession and do so much earnest work in other directions, is a source of wonder to her friends. Since 1890 Dr. Keller has been a member of the Boston School Board, holding the position with distinguished honor and credit. She has done the most effective work as a member of the Committees on Text Books, Hygiene, and Examinations. She is at the present time Chairman of a division which includes seven large grammar schools, with all the colonies and primaries, of which she is expected to know the condition and the needs; to nominate for them suitable teachers and to decide vexed questions of discipline - in a word, to keep these schools up to the recognized standard; and she has gained the confidence and respect of all who have come in contact with her in this special department.

With all this varied work she is not unmindful of the sweet amenities of life. Her home in Jamaica Plain, Mass., is made attractive with music, pictures, and books, and a most hospitable welcome awaits her friends, while plenty and good cheer crown the board.

Within the past few years she has planned and superintended the building of seven houses.

During the summer months Dr Keller repairs to her beautiful mountain retreat in Jaffery, N.H., where she tosses care to the breezes and invites a well-earned rest, and almost any day one may see her driving her fine span of horses over those mountain roads. Dr. Keller has not lived unto herself alone. She has provided home and education for three orphan nieces, one of whom, Dr. Ida F. Curry, a girl of rare promise, died in the second year of her practice; her daughter, Helen, is prepared to enter Smith College this year, and an interesting grandchild, the daughter of her only son, completes the happy picture of young life in the household."

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