1922: Doctor Laura M. Wright

From a 1922 issue of The American Magazine:

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At Eighty-two She Manages a Plumbing Shop

Mrs. Laura M. Wright, of Belvidere, New Jersey, celebrated her eighty-second birthday by doing her usual work, which, as manager of a plumbing shop, consisted in taking calls over the telephone, seeing that the plumbers’ assistants left on time and arrived on time for their appointments, meeting customers and supplying their demands. Incidentally, she walked a mile to work in the morning, and walked a mile home at night. “I never,” she said, “miss my mile of oxygen.”

Mrs. Wright began her career as a breadwinner at an early day, but it was not in a plumbing shop. They had no plumbing shops in Royal Oak, Michigan, when she was born. Having none of the modern conveniences in the home, they escaped the plumber, also. She began her wage-earning career by taking care of the sick.

Her mother and grandmother had learned from the Indians the secrets of the medical virtues in roots and leaves, so that the little girl was brought up in an atmosphere of healing.

“When I was only ten years of age,” she said, “I nursed sick babies, and many a child has died in my arms. There were no hospitals, no trained nurses in Royal Oak; everything done when there was sickness was done by the family and neighbors. Mothers being busy with their own broods, it was customary to send over the eldest daughter to help out. In this way I was frequently sent to take the place of my mother, and because there was so much sickness in our little frontier town, my youth seems to have been closely associated with the dead and dying. I recall that I once sat up with the dead three nights in succession, going to school as usual next day. It is something that would cause indignant protest from the public if given to a twelve-year-old girl to do to-day.

“I seemed destined to this form of service, for, when I married, Lawrence, Kansas, became our home at a time when the state was attracting its first settlers. Again I met the conditions I had known since childhood in Royal Oak. The people were not equipped materially or physically to meet the hardships of pioneer life, and, as is always the case, the women and children were the sufferers. Again I took care of the sick, charging only five dollars for bringing a child into the world and nursing the mother till her strength returned, and taking care of the family and household. For nursing in ordinary sickness I was paid two dollars a week, and I was kept busy, so busy that I began to realize the need of a training for the work which was so evidently to be my vocation.

“I worked hard; I saved every penny, and at last was in a position to go East and study medicine; I also studied surgery, and this was in a day when few women dreamed of entering the profession. My first practice was in New York City, also in the pioneer stage compared with the greater facilities for caring for the sick which we enjoy to-day. After a few years in New York City, I opened an office in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, and there I practiced till I reached the age of seventy-four.

“I was too young to retire. I was in my prime of usefulness, but felt that a slight deafness might some day result in an injustice to a patient, so I decided to take a rest, though, I assure you, I was not at all ready for it. I became very, very tired after resting a few weeks, and decided that something light and easy was needed to take away that tired feeling. So I became a book agent, walking from door to door finding buyers for Billy Sunday’s books. It was in this way I met the man who gave me my present job. Some might have thought I was too old for it. He says not. He says he finds me of greater service than if I were a girl of eighteen, being emotionally settled.

“I hear a great deal of the Dangerous Age. It is my belief that no age is a dangerous age to one who is employed. I haven’t missed a week from the shop in two years. On only one of the days of the winter two years ago, when the snowfall was so heavy, was I unable to walk my mile to work. I am always busy; I have always been busy, and, consequently, I am always happy, and if a Dangerous Age lay behind any of the milestones I have passed, it did not come out of its hiding place.

“When do I expect to retire?… Oh, I am too young to think of such a thing!”

— Frances L. Garside

Original page image:

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