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Friday, March 15, 2013

Beatrice Pearce, M.D., County's First Woman Doctor

Beatrice Pearce (1866 - 1948) was the first woman doctor in Lake County, and one of the first doctors in the frontier town of Ketchikan, Alaska.

Dr. Beatrice Pearce, M.D., circa 1900.
LCDM 92.34.293
In 1847, Beatrice's father, Dr. William S. Pearce, immigrated from England, and settled in Chicago, opening a drug store on N. Clark Street. He married Mary Grace Copp in 1853. 

By 1855, Dr. Pearce moved to Waukegan, "Because the ground [in Chicago] was swampy," and re-established his drug store at Genesee and Washington Streets.

The first Pearce house (above) was located at 509 Julian Street, Waukegan.
It is believed that William S. Pearce had this house built in circa 1855.
Beatrice would've been born here in January 1866.
In 1881, her father purchased the former Dr. Kellogg house
at 320 Julian Street, where the Pearce's lived until 1922. 
After graduating from Waukegan High School, Beatrice attended the Woman's Hospital Medical College in Chicago from 1883 - 1887. Since her father and brother were both doctors, it is likely that Beatrice had a good deal of support as she pursued a medical career. Typically women faced discrimination and other barriers to becoming a doctor, but by the end of the 19th century, about 5% (over 7,000) of all doctors in the United States were women. 

After graduating with her medical degree, Beatrice set up her own practice, specializing in diseases of women and children. Her practice was located above the Pearce Drug Store on Genesee Street, and she lived with her parents on Julian Street. The Pearce Drug Store was founded by her father in 1855, and later operated by her brother, Dr. William W. Pearce.

Pearce family listings (above) from the Waukegan city directory for 1897-1898.
Directory shows Beatrice as a physician, and her father W.S. as being retired. 
In addition to her medical practice, Beatrice was a suffragette. In March 1897, she attended a Woman Suffrage convention in Waukegan, but the event had low participation due to a blizzard. Still, the women organized a local suffrage association, consisting of 30 members, and Beatrice became its treasurer. 

In 1908, Beatrice met Dr. George E. Dickinson, while attending a medical convention in Chicago. They  married later that year. Dickinson (1870 - 1956) had immigrated from England and was  practicing medicine in Ketchikan, Alaska. He took his new bride to Ketchikan where they practiced together for nearly 40 years.

Postcard of Ketchikan, Alaska, 1918. Teich Postcard Archives A74192. 
When Beatrice arrived in Ketchikan, she found a frontier town with a population of approximately 1,600. Compared to the bustle of Waukegan with a population of 16,000 (in addition to the nearby metropolis of Chicago), it was pioneer country. Ketchikan got its start in 1883 with the establishment of salmon fishing and canning, and later mining and timber companies. Today, it's known as the Salmon Capital of the World, and salmon and tourism are the foundation of the local economy.

Beatrice and George had no children, and devoted their lives to the well-being of the residents of Ketchikan.

Beatrice passed away March 16, 1948 and is buried in Bayview Cemetery, Ketchikan. Memorial services were held in Waukegan on April 1, 1948, and conducted in the Masonic temple by the Waukegan chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star, to which Beatrice had belonged since 1892.

Lake County History Archives/Lake County Discovery Museum. 
Curt Teich Postcard Archives/Lake County Discovery Museum.
"Woman Suffrage Work at Waukegan," Chicago Tribune March 24, 1897.
Waukegan City Directory 1897-98, Vol. II, Whitney Publishing Co., Chicago, Illinois. 
"Dr. B.P. Dickinson Memorial Rites Will Be Conducted April 1," Chicago Tribune March 25, 1948.
"Dr. Dickinson Dies in Alaska," Waukegan News-Sun, 1948.
"Waukegan: A History" by Ed Link, Waukegan Historical Society, 2009. - MomMD is a leading online magazine, community and association for women in medicine. 
Census records
Family records on 


Anonymous said...

She must have been a remarkable woman!

Elaine Dickinson said...

Dr Pearce married my ancestor Dr George Edward Dickinson. I am very proud of both of them. The more i learn about her the more i admire her.

Diana Dretske said...

Thank you for commenting. I would love to know more about their lives in Ketchikan.