Thomas, Mary Myers (1816–1888)

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Thomas, Mary Myers (1816–1888)

American physician and activist. Born Mary Frame Myers on October 28, 1816, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania; died of dysentery on August 19, 1888; daughter of Samuel Myers (a teacher and abolitionist) and Mary (Frame) Myers; Penn Medical University, M.D., 1856; married Owen Thomas (a physician), in 1839 (died 1886); children: Laura; Pauline Heald; Julia Josephine (Thomas) Irvine.

Practiced medicine in Richmond, Indiana (1856); served on the governor's Sanitary Commission, Indiana, during the Civil War; served on the city board of public health of Richmond, Indiana, for eight years; edited women's rights publications and resurrected Indiana Woman Suffrage Association (1869); was admitted to the Indiana State Medical Society, becoming first woman regular (1876); elected president of the American Woman Suffrage Association (1880); elected president of the Wayne County Medical Society (1887).

Mary Myers Thomas was born Mary Frame Myers, the second daughter of Quakers Samuel and Mary Frame Myers , on October 28, 1816, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Her mother died shortly after her birth, and in 1818 Samuel Myers married Paulina Iden (Myers) . Myers and Iden had seven more children together, five daughters and two sons. The family lived for a time in Silver Spring, Maryland, then moved to Washington, D.C.

Mary Myers Thomas was one of the first woman physicians in America and contributed to many social reform movements. She attended public schools and learned to value progressive causes from her father, an abolitionist. When she was 17, the Myers family moved to a Quaker colony in New Lisbon, Ohio, where Samuel Myers taught school and Mary married Owen Thomas, a medical student, in 1839. The couple had three daughters.

When her husband graduated and became a doctor, the family moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1849. Exposed to the nascent woman's rights movement in 1845, Mary Thomas decided to pursue a medical career as well. She began studying with her husband, and in 1853 she was accepted to study with the first class of women students at Penn Medical University in Philadelphia, where her half-sister Hannah E. Long-shore was teaching. Mary delayed her entrance when her oldest daughter became terminally ill, taking classes with her husband at Western Reserve College in Cleveland. After her daughter's death in 1855, Thomas began the medical program at Penn, graduating with an M.D. degree in July 1856. (Another half-sister would also become a physician in Pennsylvania.)

Thomas then opened a practice in Richmond, Indiana. During the Civil War, she served first as a nurse, then as an assistant surgeon to her husband in Nashville, Tennessee. The couple returned to Richmond after the war and reopened their separate practices. During her long years in private practice, Thomas combined her medical training with her Quaker upbringing to become active in many social causes. Perhaps her most important contributions were to the woman's rights movement in Indiana; primarily interested in female suffrage rights, she served as president of the Indiana Woman's Rights Society and edited two feminist newspapers, The Mayflower and Amelia Bloomer 's The Lily. In the 1870s, Thomas often spoke at suffrage conventions and even appeared twice before the Indiana state legislature on behalf of the suffragist cause. In the early 1880s, she served as president of both the American Woman Suffrage Association and the Indiana Woman Suffrage Association.

Mary Thomas' tireless activism extended to other causes as well. A Methodist by faith (despite her Quaker background), Thomas was a leader in the temperance movement, elected as an officer in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. She also served on Richmond's public health board and was one of the first women admitted to the Wayne County Medical Society, the Indiana State Medical Society, and the American Medical Association; she later served as president of the Wayne County Medical Society. In all of these organizations Thomas was a strong voice for expanded opportunities and professional recognition for women physicians. She also demonstrated her personal convictions in her private practice, for example in caring for black patients in Richmond as well as serving as physician for the Home for Friendless Girls, an institution she had helped establish.

Thomas retired from practice and political work at age 69 due to poor health. Her husband died in 1886; Thomas herself died two years later, at age 72. Prior to her death, Thomas requested that six women bear the pall at her funeral, in representation of the Good Templars, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The request was honored, and six women carried her casket to a burial at Maple Hill Cemetery in Hartford, Michigan, near her daughter's home.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California

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Thomas, Mary Myers (1816–1888)

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