Image taken from https://www.kcet.org/shows/daring-women-doctors-physicians-in-the-19th-century. The photo is from a series on KCET about female doctors in the 1800s. I would love to watch it, but I don’t live in Los Angeles. So, it looks like I need to need to track it down on my local PBS stations.
In Seeing the Elephant, book 4, the old boarding house family returns to Blaineton. More changes are afoot, but most important is that their financial situation is about to improve. Eli becomes editor-in-chief of The Blaineton Register, owned by Miss Tryphena Moore; Nate Johnson resumes his work as a carpenter and wheelwright; and Emily Johnson (who announces that she is pregnant again) begins baking cakes, pies, and muffins for Miss Amelia’s Tea Shop.
Only a few days into 1864, though, 21-year-old Lydia departs for Gettysburg. I’ll let Maggie explain why and describe her eldest daughter’s accomplishments thus far:
She has done amazing things for one so young. She is a midwife and a competent surgeon. She and Miss Adela Edler founded the Gettysburg Infirmary for Women and Children. Liddy tells me that it is becoming common for a doctor to attend a medical school, rather than apprentice under an experienced physician. She would like to attend, but since few medical schools admit women, it is unlikely. Thus, she reads books and papers and pamphlets and journals. I daresay she is as knowledgeable about new learnings as school-taught doctors. In addition, she has the advantage of working with Miss Edler, whose native language is German. She reads the latest medical books and journals from Germany and explains their content to Lydia. It is a fine partnership. (From Seeing the Elephant)
But in early May, Maggie writes to Lydia, requesting that she return to Blaineton. The reason? Emily’s former midwife, Sister Brady, has passed away and Emily needs someone to assist the birth. Maggie also has a few other reasons for Lydia to come home, one being that things are not going well at the Western New Jersey Hospital for the Insane, where Frankie currently is employed.
Nearly a week later, Lydia is back in New Jersey, which is a great comfort to Emily. But she soon is drawn into medical service beyond midwifery. Maggie’s concern about the situation at the Western New Jersey Hospital is warranted. Things explode as the male patients stage a riot. Knowing that there will be casualties and confusion, Lydia jumps in to help.
After the riot, there is a badly needed change in leadership. However, the hospital is in need of repair and closes for the duration. The former superintendent, who has been returned to his position, tells Lydia that when the hospital reopens, one wing will be for reserved for physical maladies and the other dedicated to the treatment of emotional and mental illnesses. Then, to Lydia’s surprise, he offers her the opportunity to serve as a doctor in the physical maladies wing.
Throughout the end of 1863 and into 1864, Lydia and Capt. Philip Frost have corresponded regularly with each other and, as a result, grown closer. Their relationship comes to a head in the novella, The Great Central Fair. The two, along with Frankie, Patrick, and chaperone Chester Carson, take a short trip to Philadelphia to visit the Fair before both Philip and Patrick report for duty at Mower General Hospital. During the visit, Lydia and Philip impulsively elope.
This caught me off guard. After all, eloping is something Frankie would do. But it is clear that Lydia is tired of putting life off. And, although it has been not quite a year since Edgar’s death, the Civil War has changed so many things, including the strict time periods reserved for mourning. When war could take a man’s life without any warning, Lydia takes action. She knows that she loves Philip and wants to spend as much time as possible with him.
In A Good Community (book 5), Lydia is fully employed at the Western New Jersey Hospital for Physical Maladies. She also helps Emily give birth to the Johnson’s baby girl, Jarena. However, Lydia pops in and out of most of the story, and does not play a large role until the end, when a fire threatens to engulf Blaineton. At this point, Lydia comes to the fore , treating and comforting burn victims and injured people. She even performs the 19th century version of CPR on a young child, thus saving her life.
When A Balm in Gilead (soon to be published) begins, Lydia is 22 years old, a skilled physician, and a married woman. She also reveals that she is pregnant. The novel itself deals with a typhoid fever epidemic, and Lydia does play large role in trying to discern how the epidemic occurred and what can be done to stop its spread. However, because she is expecting, mentor Dr. Lightner curtails her activity. This, of course, does not go down well with Lydia. But Dr. Lightner, as well as nearly everyone else she knows, insists that she needs to take an administrative rather than a hands-on role until the baby is born.
On the upside, Lydia is able to enjoy a brief reunion with Philip, who returns to Blaineton from Mower Hospital on a brief leave.
I thoroughly enjoy writing Lydia’s character. She is competent, smart, compassionate, and logical. Women like her forced their way into male roles over howls of disapproval claiming that women were too emotional, lacked intelligence, and/or were too unskilled to work outside the home.
That said, Lydia is going to find herself experiencing the pull that many women encountered and still encounter between career and family. It will be interesting to see how she balances her calling as a physician and as a mother.
Will she and Philip remain in Blaineton? My sense is “yes,” but I could be wrong. My characters have been known to surprise me. Lydia’s elopement is a clear example of that. I didn’t even know it was going to happen until I arrived at one particular scene.
Next week, we’ll tackle Maggie’s “wild child,” Frankie. Well… maybe “wild” isn’t the right word for her. It could be that she just knows what she wants. That makes her like her older sister, except Frankie just goes about it in a different way.
Stay warm everyone! (We’re anticipating yet another snowstorm here in New Jersey.)
And please stay safe and well.
Janet R. Stafford
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder