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Mary Pauline Root papers


Held at: Drexel University: College of Medicine Legacy Center [Contact Us]

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Drexel University: College of Medicine Legacy Center. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Dr. (Mary) Pauline Root was born May 22, 1859 in Providence, Rhode Island. She graduated from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1883 as a Doctor of Medicine, and was the first female doctor to test for and receive an internship at Blockley Hospital in Philadelphia.

After her 18 month internship, Root was sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) on a mission trip to Madurai, in Southern India, to create a Women’s Hospital in the community. She was the first female doctor to be sent on a mission by the ABCFM, and worked for the Board from 1885-1896. Root arrived in India in October 1885, and after receiving some education in Tamil, was placed in charge of all medical work at the mission in January 1888. She returned to Providence in 1891 on "furlough status" to aid and support her family, and in the same year traveled to other missions (ie. in Japan, China, California) also. Root announced her leave from the Madurai mission in July 1893 after the new building of the women’s hospital she fought for was opened to the public. Afterwards, she traveled around the United States lecturing on her medical missionary work and the importance of missionary service for the ABCFM, and was officially released from service in 1896.

Though there is a gap in explanatory documentation of Root’s life from 1896-1906, she accomplished some post-graduate work during this time – according to information from Smith College archives, Root was involved with the "…Cornell Medical School, Post Graduate Medical School, [and] Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital, [from] 1904-1906…" and received a license to practice medicine and surgery in New York state in January 1906. After gaining the same license in Massachusetts in March 1906, Root was employed as the resident physician at Smith College until 1909. She was both the head of Tenney House, a co-op self-help student house on campus, and taught two "hygiene" courses: entitled "Hygiene" and "Problems of Family Physiology and Hygiene".

Following another undocumented gap, Root worked for the National Young Women’s Christian Association's Social Hygiene department during World War I and then the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) from 1919-21. She traveled around the United States and visiting American Indian communities and Indian Government Schools teaching "social hygiene". From September-December 1920, Root taught in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, North and South Dakota. From December-June 1921, Root lectured in Kansas, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, Nevada, California, Oregon.

There’s no information in the collection to support any medical work after her teaching position with the BIA. She became an official member of the Beneficent Congregational Church in Providence, RI in May 1922 and was an active participant in the Church community as a bible study teacher. After a long life as a barrier-breaking doctor and a constant contributor to all the communities she was a part of and entered, Pauline Root died July 10, 1944 in her summer home on Lady Birch Island in Christmas Cove, Maine.

This collection was compiled chiefly by Root's niece Dorthea L Smith (DLS), with contributing information from Root’s half-sister Mary Elizabeth Root (MER). Users of the collection will notice traces of "dls" and "MER" in notes, transcriptions and summaries of information.

The collection contains both written and photographic material.

The written material (folders #1-9) includes information concerning Root's work for United States Bureau of Indian Affairs and her medical missionary work for the American Bureau of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in India, as well as come correspondence both directly to/from Root and also concerning Root's life. The photographic material (folders #10-13) includes a number of photos from Root's travels to Native American communities and schools throughout the United States for the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs, some personal photos/portraits, and an album of photos from Root's time as a missionary in India.

Folder #7 of the collection consists of photocopied material and photographs from Smith College Archives; included is some meager information concerning and reflecting Root's position and time there, from 1906-1909.

The strength of this collection lies in the notes from Root's travels and lecturing for the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs in Indian Government Schools (folder #2), as the notes provide both the most extensive/in-depth information on Root's day-to-day life during this time. The folder contains first a small handwritten notebook (ordered geographically/alphabetically by location) of Root's which details trip, school and personal information pertaining to the different places she went from 1919-1920. Secondly, there are another set of handwritten notes on loose leaf paper, thought to be written by Root's half sister Mary Elizabeth Root, containing extracts of Root's own account(s). Thirdly, there is a typed copy of notes, extracts containing short descriptions of Root's travels from 1919-20, with a short description attached of the contents of the packet and the context and details of Root’s work. Some of the personal correspondence, directly from Root to her family members (folders #3, 4), during this time may also shed some light on Root’s personal experience of her work.

There is some descriptive and timeline information on her missionary work in India (folders #1, #5), but instead of focusing on the medical aspects of this work, the information in the collection is more mission-focused. The majority of the information on her work in Madura is from or concerning the ABCFM and her church in Providence, and emphasizes the Christian mission message. There is an absence of substantial information concerning specifically Root's medical work at the women’s hospital in Madura.

Though there is not a substantial amount of information, another strength of this collection is that it concerns the life of a glass-ceiling-breaking female doctor – Root was the first woman to be an intern at Blockley and the first female doctor to be sent as a medical missionary by the ABCFM.

Another possible weakness of this collection is the continued mention of Dr. Root's work and teaching concerning "hygiene" and "social hygiene", but the lack of elaboration on the matter. Though this connects Root to the social hygiene movement of the late 19th-early 20th centuries, there is little to no elaboration on the subject matter of her work or teaching in these areas.

There are significant gaps in the collection, primarily in chronological sense: from 1896-1906, 1909-1919, and from 1922-1944. There are snippets of information, but the collection contains no substantial matter on what Root was doing professionally or personally during these time periods.

In a second box, there are a number of Root's diplomas and certificates from her medical work.

Drexel University: College of Medicine Legacy Center
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Eva Whittaker

Collection Inventory

Background information, 1922-1985, undated.
Box 1 Folder 1
Notes on Root's travels and work for the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1919-1920, 1985, undated.
Box 1 Folder 2
Correspondence directy to/from Root, 1911-1920, undated.
Box 1 Folder 3
Letter from Root to sister FA Root from Kyoto, Japan, 1891 September.
Box 1 Folder 4
Correspomdence and documents concerning American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and Root's missionary work, 1890-1891, 1912, 1957, undated.
Box 1 Folder 5
Correspondence concerning the Beneficent Congregation Church, 1922, 1956-1957, 1985.
Box 1 Folder 6
Information concerning Root from Smith College Archives, 1893-1897, 1905-1907, 1986.
Box 1 Folder 7
Concerning Miss Means and Lady Birch Island, 1922, 1985, undated.
Box 1 Folder 8
Ephemera, undated.
Box 1 Folder 9
Photograph of women's hospital, Madurai, India, 1883.
Box 1 Folder 10
Photographs taken during Root's travels and work for the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1918-1920, undated.
Box 1 Folder 11
Photographs of Root, 1891, 1920, undated.
Box 1 Folder 12
Photograph album from Root's missionary work in India, undated.
Box 1 Folder 13

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