Women in Medicine in the United States: It Began in Hamorton

Chris Densmore, Curator, Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College

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In 1846, Dr. Bartholomew Fussell, held a meeting in Hamorton to develop a plan for a medical college for women.  The idea was revolutionary. No woman had ever received the M.D. degree. The proposal was in 1850 with the creation of the Female Medical College of Philadelphia, the first school in the United States to offer the M.D. degree to women.  The meeting included Dr. Edwin Fussell, his nephew, Dr. Franklin Taylor, a cousin and traveling companion to Bayard Taylor, Dr. Ezra Michener of London Grove, Dr. Sylvester Birdsall and Dr. Ellwood Harvey.  All were from Kennett and vicinity, and most have been identified with strong connections to the Underground Railroad or the Anti-Slavery Movement.  Also present was Dr. Fussell’s sister-in-law, Graceanna Lewis.

Rebecca Lewis Fussell and Ann Preston were among the early graduates of the Medical College.  The meeting at Dr. Fussell’s home demonstrates the close relationship between the anti-slavery movement, women’s rights and reform. The idea of women doctors was at this time considered a radical reform. It also demonstrates the impact of the reformers of Kennett Square and vicinity on American history.

A Visit to President Lincoln

Chris Densmore, Curator, Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 7.10.56 PMWe would like to tell you about a little-known bit of history: how Longwood Meeting may have influenced Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

Not many people know about the visit of some Longwood Progressive Friends to President Lincoln. In June 1862, when the country had been at war for a little over a year, Longwood sent six delegates to Washington to present what they called a Memorial–really a petition–to the president. The six were Thomas Garrett, Alice Eliza Hambleton, Dinah Mendenhall, Oliver Johnson, Eliza Agnew, and William Barnard.

The Longwood Friends said they saw the evils of the war as “vials of Divine retribution which are now poured out upon the whole land, for its grievous and unrelenting oppression of a guiltless and inoffensive race.”  They urged Lincoln to abolish slavery without delay.  Here is the substance of their Memorial.

The Religious Society of Progressive Friends beg leave, respectfully but earnestly, to set forth for the consideration of President Lincoln– That they fully share in the general grief felt at the course pursued in opposition to the General Government by the so-called “Confederate States.”

That this sanguinary rebellion finds its cause, purpose, and combustible materials in that most unchristian and barbarous system of slavery and in the guilt of which the whole land has long been deeply involved by general complicity.

That thus heavily visited for its grinding oppression of an unfortunate race, whose wrongs have so long cried unto Heaven for redress, and thus solemnly warned of the exceeding wickedness of endeavoring to secure peace, prosperity, and unity, while leaving millions to clank their chains in the house of bondage, the nation should lose no time in proclaiming immediate emancipation, so the present frightful effusion of blood may cease.

That in his speech delivered at Springfield, the President declared, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.”

That this Society urgently unites with a constantly increasing sentiment in beseeching the President not to allow the present golden opportunity to pass without decreeing the entire abolition of slavery throughout the land, as a measure demanded by a due regard for the unity of the country and by every consideration of justice, mercy, and peace.


President Lincoln, ever the consummate politician, said he couldn’t comment because he hadn’t had a copy of the Memorial to read in advance.

He said, though, “It’s a relief that the deputation are not applicants for office, for my chief trouble comes from that class of persons. And the next most troublesome subject is slavery.” He wondered if a proclamation of freedom would be effective, since the Constitution couldn’t be enforced in the South while the war was going on.

Oliver Johnson (pictured below) answered, “We are solemnly convinced that the abolition of slavery is indispensable to your success.”

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Another delegate, William Barnard, was a third cousin once removed of the President, though probably neither of them was aware of this kinship. William Barnard brought up the story from the Bible, of Mordecai’s appeal to Queen Esther, and urged the President to use his power, as Esther had, to save the country.

The President said, “I’ve sometimes thought that perhaps I might be an instrument in God’s hands of accomplishing a great work, and I’m certainly not unwilling to be. Perhaps, however, God’s way of accomplishing the end you have in view may be different from yours. It is my earnest endeavor, seeking light from above, to do my duty in the place to which I have been called.”

The group left, gratified by the way the President had received them. Later a congressman said that, if many churches of the country would only follow the example of the Progressive Friends, the President and Congress would have to strike for the overthrow of slavery as the only way to put down the rebellion.

Just a month later President Lincoln presented a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to the full cabinet. Some members objected, so he shelved it, but his mind was made up. In September 1862 he issued the Proclamation, which was to take effect January 1, 1863.

William Lloyd Garrison, who had been extremely critical of Lincoln, hailed the proclamation as “a great historic event, sublime in its magnitude, momentous and beneficent in its far-reaching consequences.”

Underground Railroads…Over Water

Terence Maguire, for the Kennett Underground Railroad Center

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 7.09.55 PMIn the parlance of the UGRR, a conductor was one who helped lead freedom-seekers to stations, run by a stationmaster, where they could rest and be fed and made ready for the next stage of their journey.  William Still in his 1872 Underground Railroad, writes of many occasions in which conductor and stationmaster were the same.  Many ship captains had the courage and dedication to freedom to risk their vessels and their own freedom in this selfless work, and shipping was and is a highly efficient way of moving cargo.

James McGowan, in his biography of Thomas Garrett, analyzed the escape stories recounted by Still, concluding that 202 were by boat.  Because some of the ship captains were natives of Wilmington, a good many freedom-seekers were brought to Thomas Garrett for dispersal northward.  

One of the boldest, most successful conductor/stationmasters was a man whom Still referred to simply as Captain F.  We now know he was Alfred Fountain.  According to Still, he was a man, “of rough and rugged appearance…not calculated to inspire the belief, that he was to be entrusted with the lives of unprotected females and helpless children” (pp. 161-62).  Despite his appearance—or perhaps even because of it—he was highly successful at secreting fugitives from Virginia ports, such as Richmond, Petersburg, and Norfolk.  Once he brought 28 fugitives to Still’s Pennsylvania Anti-slavery Society.  

As the country approached the advent the Civil War, Southern states were growing increasingly defensive, even paranoid about escaping slaves and those who facilitated those escapes.  That fervor was shown in last week’s column about poor Reverend Green, sentenced to a decade in prison simply for owning Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  

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Another example was the reaction of the city of Norfolk to Fountain in November, 1855.  Because a large number of the city’s slaves had just escaped, suspicion fell on the northern ship, tied up in harbor with a cargo of wheat.  Led by Norfolk’s mayor himself, a “posse” of slave catchers stormed on board and began searching.  They looked in all the obvious places.  They thrust long spears into the wheat, hoping to draw them out with blood to confirm their suspicions.  Others took axes and began chopping up the ship’s planking.  

Fountain took charge of the situation.  Grabbing an axe from one of the posse, he challenged the mayor, “Now if you want to search…point out the spot you want opened and I will open it very quick” (p. 167).  He then began to hack away at one spot, doing greater damage than the slave-seekers had done.  He did so with such ferocity that the mayor and his posse were convinced and retreated off the ship.

In Catch-22, Joseph Heller wrote, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”  Hizzoner the Mayor was right.  Captain Fountain sailed away with a badly damaged ship—and 21 fugitives, on their way to freedom.

Two Men Named Maris

Terence Maguire, for the Kennett Underground Railroad Center

For those of us of a certain age, the name Maris conjures up memories of some of the most exciting times of major league baseball.  Long before the era of steroid-enhanced performances, Roger Maris assailed –and eventually broke—one of the most cherished records in baseball: Babe Ruth’s mark of 60 home runs.  For most of that season, Roger and teammate Mickey Mantle were neck-and-neck in the race, while all of the sports world ( and many usually uninterested in baseball) followed the relentless pressure and publicity that made Maris a nervous wreck.  On the last day of the 1961 season he hit his 61st home run.  Finally the pressure ended.  

More than a century earlier, Norris Maris worked in an atmosphere quite different.  There was no “season of achievement” for him and his family, but a steady yet unpredictable demand on their time and dedication.  The cheers of the crowds for doing good work was the very last thing they would have wished for.  Freedom-seekers throughout the 1840s and 1850s came to him for aid, first as he worked on the farm of Esther Lewis and her daughters, and later after he purchased his own farm in Kimberton.  Dr. Smedley writes that the Quaker Maris “never looked upon it as a trouble; scarcely as a duty; but simply as a blessed privilege to secure the freedom and happiness…of an oppressed and down-trodden people.”  While on the Lewis farm, he once helped those women feed, comfort, and move along toward freedom a party of twenty-one fugitives—a major undertaking, but done in silence and out of the public eye.  

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Unlike some stationmasters, who tried to keep their own children ignorant of their activities, Maris taught his children to embrace the cause as well.  His son George was apparently well-schooled at drawing maps for the freedom-seekers, and all the children “looked upon providing for them with the same calm, cheerful, ‘matter-of-course’ feeling” they demonstrated in doing their daily chores (Smedley, pp. 191-92).

Last week’s column in this space spoke of the fact that Dr. Smedley had died before he completed his invaluable book, History of the Underground Railroad in Chester County…The editors who finished the book noted that Smedley’s original inspiration for compiling these stories came from listening to Norris Maris talk about the great work of the Lewis sisters.  Happily, Smedley made sure to celebrate the man himself, who died in 1893, at the age of 90.

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If there were a Hall of Fame for those promoting freedom and justice, Norris Maris would certainly warrant a plaque.  Perhaps there should be such a Hall.  

Two Giants of the Underground Railroad

Terence Maguire, for the Kennett Underground Railroad Center

As readers of this column know well, Kennett Square was a “hotbed of abolitionism” and a major thoroughfare of the Underground Railroad.  Kennett, however, was neither the starting point nor the terminal of that great metaphoric means of transportation.  For many of the freedom-seekers passing through Kennett Square, two pivotal  figures were Thomas Garrett of Wilmington, sending his charges north; and William Still (to the right) in Philadelphia, who welcomed them to the city where American freedom was born.  Still, the son of an escaped slave mother, became the secretary of the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society.  In that position he helped move fugitives to places farther north and of greater safety.  In addition, he gleaned information from these refugees, to help them reconnect to possible family who had escaped on the same “railway.”

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The collaboration of these two lasted over many years and made the “Eastern Line” of the UGRR perhaps the most successful in the country.  They communicated with each other often, with letters that used coded phrases to disguise their purpose, often referring to the fugitives as “cargo.”  

Thomas, living in a slave state and having, in 1848, been arrested, tried, found guilty, and fined, may not have kept Still’s letters, as they would be a danger to the UGRR if discovered.  If he did keep them, their whereabouts is unknown.  William, though in a free state, nonetheless took the precaution to bury them and his interview notes until the Civil War was over.  Those notes and letters formed the basis of  his 1872 publication, The Underground Railroad, the first account of this great saga and the only one written by an African-American of the time.

Perhaps Still’s most extraordinary experience among his fugitive interviews was meeting a man in 1850, recently escaped from the Deep South.  The man had been sold away from his family as a child and hoped to find some living relatives.  Listening to the details the man knew of his family, William suddenly realized he was listening to his “own dear brother whom I had never seen…. I could see in the face of my newfound brother the likeness of my mother” (Still, p. 4).  Later William was able to introduce his brother Peter to their aged mother.

In 2001, this scene was powerfully captured in the musical drama, Stand by the River, presented at Chester County Historical Society.  The play, written by Mark and Joanna Sutton-Smith, celebrated the life and work of William Still, and it featured a descendant, Winnie Still Davis, who played the mother of William and Peter Still.  And in the audience of one its performance was a young woman, Megan Garrett Bauer, a direct descendant of Thomas Garrett.  After the performance, those proud descendants met one another.

Harriet Tubman and Abraham Lincoln

Terence Maguire, for the Kennett Underground Railroad Center

On Friday, June 6, the Delaware Humanities Forum sponsored a performance by young playwright Colin Adams-Toomey, Better Angels: the Nation’s Wounds.  Staged at the Delaware Theater Company, this ambitious play celebrates the efforts and the achievements of  Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Garrett.  One of its many scenes portrays the meeting between Lincoln and Garrett that took place in June, 1862.  The meeting, which involved six Quakers from the Longwood Progressive Meeting, is simplified in the play; Lincoln meets only with Garrett and his wife Rachel (who was not actually there).

Adams-Toomey’s play deals with some of the same events and issues shown in the recent movie, Lincoln.  That movie, based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, emphasizes Lincoln’s pragmatism, political skill, and ambiguous attitudes toward emancipation, attitudes that made abolitionists uneasy about him during his Presidency.  Lincoln, in a famous letter, declared, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”  Such willingness to compromise set him apart from most abolitionists, and many had genuine reservations about Lincoln.  Those misgivings largely disappeared after the Emancipation Proclamation, the passing of the Thirteen Amendment (banning slavery in America), the Confederacy’s defeat, and Lincoln’s assassination.  Lincoln was then seen as a martyr, like John Brown.  In reality, Lincoln and Brown could scarcely have been more different.  As shown in Goodwin’s biography, Lincoln was shrewdly practical in his idealism.

The attitude toward Lincoln of Harriet Tubman, the famous conductor of the Underground Railroad, was typical of those of many abolitionists.  In her biography of Tubman, Bound for the Promised Land (Random House, 2004), author Kate Larson cites a meeting between Tubman and Sojourner Truth, the famous orator and advocate for freedom and equality of not only African-Americans but also women.  During that summer meeting in1864, Truth spoke positively of Lincoln.

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Tubman, a great admirer of John Brown, was unhappy with Lincoln. Tubman knew that “colored” Union soldiers were getting less than half the pay of white soldiers.  She herself did great service for the Union as a cook and nurse; she even lead military operations in South Carolina.  However, she was only meagerly rewarded.  Sojourner Truth later met with Lincoln at the White House, one of the first African-Americans ever invited there.  When Tubman heard that “Lincoln had been kind to Truth,” and that he “had done nothing for himself; he was only a servant of the country,” Tubman changed her mind.  “I’se sorry now I didn’t see Master Lincoln and thank him,” Tubman said later in life. (pp. 226-227).  

That seems right. Tubman, like Garrett and Lincoln, was practical in her idealism.  They didn’t just talk.  They freed slaves.

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The Trackless Trail Tracked from the Eastern Shore to Canada.

Chris Densmore, Curator, Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College

There are plans to commemorate the intrepid African-American Underground Railroad conductor, Harriet Tubman, through a Byway from her birth-place on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and then following her escape route through Maryland and Delaware. Chester County historian, Frances C. Taylor, wrote about the Underground Railroad being a “Trackless Trail,” but it is possible to connect Harriet directly to the abolitionists of Southern Chester County, and from there follow her northward all the way to Canada.  She knew the Progressive Friends of Longwood Meeting, and was friends with Thomas Garrett in Wilmington.

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Future travelers on the modern Tubman Byway can not only see the old Longwood Meetinghouse, but from there can take the Kennett Underground Railroad Center’s Heritage Tour of URR houses, and learn about this important time in our area’s local history.  The Fussell House, or “The Pines,” is the second house on the tour, and of priceless significance to our community for all the famous abolitionists who were entertained there.

“To Agitate the Question is a Breach of Good Faith”

Chris Densmore, Curator, Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College

It is now the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, an anniversary commemorated by exhibits, including the impressive exhibit at the Chester County Historical Society, reenactments, lectures and other events.   The Underground Railroad and the Kennett area are an integral part of the sectional conflict leading up to the Civil War.  The United States Constitution, written in 1787, recognized the legality of slavery in the states where it existed and required the return of “fugitives from labor” if they tried to escape to one of the free states of the North.  Many people in both North and South understood that this was part of the “deal” that made the creation of the United States possible.  Whether one liked or disliked the institution of slavery, the protection of slavery was in the Constitution which was regarded as almost a sacred document.

In Kennett and vicinity abolitionists stood on one side of the question, not willing to recognize the legitimacy of slavery and willing to assist those trying to escape it.  The other side included people that feared that the Underground Railroad antagonized the South and could end in division and civil war.   In 1839, the Governor of Pennsylvania, stated “To agitate the question anew, when it has thus satisfactorily settled [by the US Constitution] is not only a breach of good faith to our brethren of the South; an unwarrantable interference with their domestic relations and institutions…”   Plainly stated, the Governor of Pennsylvania thought that anti-slavery organizations, anti-slavery publications and anti-slavery newspapers were subversive of the good order of the nation. The abolitionist felt that “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” was the higher law.  Who was the Governor so worried about?   Why, the Kennett Anti-Slavery Society, and the sort of folk who have been appearing in this column. Who knew that a bunch of old Quaker farmers could be so frightening?

The Pines

Chris Densmore, Curator, Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College

In the years leading up to the Civil War, the Kennett area was known as “that hotbed of abolitionism” because of the help many local residents gave to fugitive slaves. These Underground Railroad “stationmasters” sheltered fugitives in their homes, called “stations.” One of the most prominent of these stationmasters was Dr. Bartholomew Fussell, whose house still stands at the intersection of Baltimore Pike and McFarlan Road, just east of historic Kennett Square. Fussell’s house, “The Pines,” is one of the most historic of the many Underground Railroad houses in the Kennett area.

While studying medicine in Maryland as a young man, Fussell conducted a Sunday School for slave children, some of whom later were pleasantly surprised when they found themselves at his home on their way north.

Besides the Fussells, two other families sheltered fugitive slaves in this old farmhouse before the Civil War: Chandler and Hannah Darlington and Sumner and Mary Anne Stebbins.  All were active members of Longwood Progressive Meeting, just up the road, now the Chester County Visitors Center.

History of the Underground Railroad in Chester and the Neighboring Counties of Pennsylvania, Smedley, R.C. 1883. 


Telling the Truth, Slowly and Suspiciously

Terence Maguire, for the Kennett Underground Railroad Center

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One challenge of being a Quaker stationmaster of the Underground Railroad was combining the moral imperative of helping freedom-seekers while telling the truth.  One stationmaster skilled at this task was John Vickers of Caln Township, just north of Kennett.

R.C. Smedley, in his History of the Underground Railroad in Chester County, relates a story about Vickers from 1818.  Two young men had escaped from slavery and traveled first Vickers’s father’s house and then his own.  Visiting his father, John found that slave hunters were searching that house from top to bottom, and they were coming next to his.  He hastened home, sending the men out the house and into a field and woods beyond.

After the hunters had arrived at his house, Vickers told them, “It will be of no use to search my house, for I know there are no fugitives in it.”  The hunters insisted, and he eventually gave in and led them slowly around the house, denying that any such people were there.  When they saw a trap door to the attic, they felt they had found the hiding place. Once again he calmly argued they would find no one, in a manner that aroused suspicion.  Reluctantly he got them a ladder, and they spent a good deal of time “grop[ing] around in the dark.”  Finally they gave up, but all this while the freedom-seekers “were fast lengthening the distance between themselves are their pursuers.”