Anna F. Lawrence was born in 1851 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Both of her parents were of British ancestry. Lawrence trained as a physician at the New England Hospital for Women and Children. In 1862, when few reputable medical schools admitted women, two women physicians—Elizabeth Blackwell and Marie Zakrzewska—founded this hospital in order to provide medical training to women. In 1873 they added a nursing school. Lawrence trained in pediatrics and gynecology, the fields that were open to women in an era when social convention did not allow them to treat men. She probably met her professional and domestic partner, Julia A. Ingram, who was a graduate of the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, while Ingram was working as an intern at the Boston hospital.
In 1883, the two women moved to Louisville. Although we do not know why they made this decision, the fact that Ingram’s family lived nearby in Southern Indiana and possessed substantial resources could have been important. Ingram and Lawrence were certainly among the first female physicians to practice in Kentucky. To be sure, there were some other female healers, but apparently these practiced homeopathic medicine and graduates of academic medical schools considered them unscientific. According to Ingram, by 1900 there were only thirty-two female doctors (meaning those with academic training) in the whole of Kentucky.
Ingram and Lawrence opened up an office together, and shared the space by alternating their office hours; one saw patients in the morning and the other in the afternoon. In a newspaper profile of 1894, an admiring journalist reported that the office was “very much like that of the other physicians,” decorated with “pictures such as a man might fancy;” spittoons and ashtrays, however, were conspicuous by their absence. The two women needed three years to make their practice profitable, but by 1894 they had “ample incomes” and were on “the high road to success.” They were as willing as their male colleagues to make night calls, and Dr. Lawrence sometimes used a bicycle to visit her patients. They treated children and women, including “the most refined and wealthy” women of the city.
The partnership was not only professional, but also domestic, and it endured for over forty years until Lawrence’s death in 1925. Professional women of this era formed same-sex partnerships for many reasons, sometimes because they feared that conventional marriage might interfere with their careers. Unlike same-sex relationships between men, these female partnerships did not usually carry the stigma of homosexuality and were regarded as quite respectable. The couple first lived with Ingram’s mother, Nancy Ingram, at 839 Third St. In 1910, the census taker listed Lawrence as “partner” rather than “boarder.” By 1916 they had moved to 824 Fourth Street, and by 1920 they lived at 1953 Bardstown Road. At that time, this was probably an open and rural environment where the two women, both long-time members of the Garden Club, could pursue their hobby. In a contest sponsored by the Club in 1919, Lawrence won a red ribbon, or second place, for her peonies. Lawrence and Ingram also spent their vacations together at Ingram’s summer house in Southern Indiana or on trips.
Both were active in their community. During the years between 1890 and 1920—a period that historians term the “Progressive Era”—many women physicians lent their expertise to social reform movements. They usually worked in cities such as Louisville, where overcrowded housing, poor sanitation, an impure food supply, and widespread poverty caused a host of diseases. Such women were among the founders of the modern field of public health.
Lawrence and Ingram both served as honorary vice presidents of the Kentucky branch of the National Consumers’ League. This organization, founded by the Chicago social reformer Florence Kelley, urged women to use their power as consumers to put pressure on manufacturers and producers to improve the treatment of their workers and the quality of their goods. The very active Kentucky branch aimed to restrict child labor, to raise wages for women workers, and to enforce health standards for the food and milk sold in the city.
Both physicians were also on the Board of the Woman’s Auxiliary of the Kentucky Humane Society, which campaigned for humane treatment for animals. Lawrence was a charter member of the Woman’s Club of Louisville—an organization that engaged in many social-reform campaigns. In 1917, Lawrence joined other philanthropic citizens, including six other women physicians, to found a Louisville chapter of the American Red Cross. She also held a first aid class at the Woman’s Club.
Lawrence served on the Board of Managers the Kentucky Children’s Home Society, and worked for ten years as the society’s physician. The society found home placements for homeless children, and in 1901 reported that it had placed 140 such children. Lawrence, said her obituary in the Cincinnati Enquirer, had “endeared herself to hundreds of the boy and girl wards of the institution.”
Woman suffrage was another cause that the two women supported, and both names appear on a list drawn up in 1895 of 35 members of the Louisville Equal Rights Association. As they also belonged to the Woman’s Club, they had many connections to other members of the suffrage organizations who also belonged to the Club. For example, in 1898 Lawrence joined a group that attended the Biennial Meeting of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in Denver. Her companions included two other early suffragists: Anna J. Hamilton, who at that time was a public-school teacher, and Ida C. Chatterson (Mrs. J. Marshall Chatterson), a well-known musician, painter, and patron of the arts.
Lawrence continued to work for women’s causes after suffrage was won. For example, in 1920 she joined a committee that supported the candidacy of a woman physician, Dr. Annie Veech, to head a six-person City Board of Health. Dr. Veech apparently did not run for the office. In the same year, Lawrence delivered a lecture on birth control to the Woman’s Club of Louisville. Her willingness to speak on this subject placed her, at the age of sixty-nine, in a medical and feminist vanguard. Margaret Sanger, who was based in New York City, had begun her campaign to legalize contraception in 1913, but she did not found the American Birth Control League until 1922, and the Kentucky branch of this organization was founded later, in 1933.
Lawrence was among the many suffragists who probably regarded women’s right to vote as both an end in itself and as a means to many other ends, including the social reforms to which she and Julia Ingram had devoted their lives. Anna F. Lawrence died of a heart condition September 3, 1925.
Ann Taylor Allen
Ida Cragg Chatterson
J. Marshall Chatterson
Anna J. Hamilton
Julia A. Ingram
Anna F. Lawrence
Cincinnati Inquirer, Sept. 4, 1925.
Ingram, Julia. “Kentucky.” Transactions of the Twenty-Fifth Annual Meeting of the Alumnae Association of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: Alumnae Association of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. 1900, p. 132.
Louisville Courier-Journal: July 9, 1893; March 18, 1894; May 12, 1901;June 6, 1901; Feb. 4, 1903; Sept. 26, 1909; Nov. 1, 1908; March 10, 1915; March 24, 1917; March 30, 1917; May 21, 1919; Jan. 30, 1920; Dec. 7, 1920; September 4, 1925.
Louisville Equal Rights Association. “Minute Book. 1889-1895.” Unpub. manuscript, Filson Historical Society.
Morantz-Sanchez, Regina. “Negotiating Power at the Bedside: Historical Perspectives on Nineteenth-Century Patients and their Gynecologists.” Feminist Studies 26, no. 2 (Summer, 2000): 287-309.
Morantz-Sanchez, Regina. Sympathy and Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 1985.
Sanville, Florence L., et al. “The Consumer’s Control of Production: The Work of the National Consumers’ League.” In The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 34, Supplement (July 1909): 1-83.