By Diane Batshaw Eisman, M.D. FAAP Doctor Eisman is in Family Practice in Aventura, Florida with her partner, Dr. Eugene Eisman, an internist/cardiologist
As I settled in for the night, rapidly scrolling on my mobile phone, a gentle hand appeared, removing it from my grasp.
I did not have to look up to know to whom the hand belonged.
It was my Great-Great-Great Grandmother, Dr. Cranky Wangshaw-Vesalius-Steinberger.
Grandma was a rarity in Victorian England, a woman who dared to become a physician. Dr. John Watson was her half-brother and the physician who attended the eminent detective Sherlock Holmes.
Propping up my pillows, I settled in to enjoy another story of her practice in England. This time it was not about Mr. Holmes. She spoke of another Victorian woman who was a pioneer: Ida B. Wells.
“I was organizing papers this evening. And, I must say that is a task that is long overdue for you, my dear grandchild.
“I came across a pamphlet written by my trusted friend, Ida B. Wells. I don’t have to tell you that it was not easy for a woman to become a physician in my time. It was even harder for Ida to follow her chosen profession.
“She was a Black woman who was one of the first investigative journalists. And her pamphlet, entitled “Southern Horrors” was truly horrifying. She had managed to find photos of lynchings in your America and publish them.”
“She sounds amazing. How did you happen to meet her, Grandma?”
“Ida was on a speaking tour in England and I attended several of her speeches. She was remarkable. Her whole manner was quiet and she spoke so eloquently and clearly.
“After one of her addresses, I think it was the one in Birmingham… I spoke with her. We had so much in common and shared teas and meals together. We have since kept in touch.
“I really found she is a woman after my own heart. She told me of the time she had purchased a first class ticket train ride in the South and she was informed by the conductor that she had to move to a smoking car, because she was Black. It did not matter that she had that ticket. Then he dragged her off the train. But Ida bit him! She then sued the railroad company and won $500. Of course, since she was a Black woman, it was eventually overturned.”
“I love that!!! There are some people I would like to bite…if I wasn’t concerned about infections!”
Smiling, Grandma Cranky continued, “After that experience on the train, she decided to become a journalist.
“She had been a teacher and saved some money. So she was able to buy into the “Memphis Free Speech and Headlight,” which was a Black owned paper and she became its editor.
“By targeting racism, segregation and lynchings; by traveling through the South, documenting violence against Black people, especially against women, she put herself at great risk. She told me of death threats, of finding her office vandalized.
“In fact, she wrote, ‘That chivalry which is most sensitive concerning the honor of women can hope for little respect from the civilized world, when it confines itself entirely to women who happen to be white.’”
“Oh, Grandma, I would love to meet her. She sounds like a wonderful writer and speaker and so courageous! It is such a sorrow that she didn’t get the recognition she deserved.”
“Well, dear, at least she was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for her contributions to journalism and the Black civil rights movement.”
Tucking me in and kissing my check, Grandma continued, “I have to get back to organizing my work now but I do want to leave you with one of her memorable writings: ‘The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.’”
Dr. Curmudgeon suggests “Bitter Medicine”, Dr. Eugene Eisman’s story of his experiences–from the humorous to the intense—as a young army doctor serving in the Vietnam War.
Bitter Medicine by Eugene H. Eisman, M.D. –on Amazon
Doctor Curmudgeon® is Diane Batshaw Eisman, M.D., a physician-satirist. This column originally appeared on SERMO, the leading global social network for doctors.