When I was growing up, the name Eliza was not common. While I knew many Elizabeths, the only Eliza I knew was from the movie, My Fair Lady. Back then, the name was much more common historically – I remember walking on the Boston Freedom Trail as a high schooler and seeing my name on fading cemetery headstone. Now, since the advent of Hamilton, the musical, it seems that everyone knows Eliza, the wife of Alexander Hamilton.
In my research of women physicians at the Legacy Center Archives, Drexel University, College of Medicine, I had the opportunity to learn more about Dr. Eliza Grier, the first black woman physician to practice in Georgia. It took her twice as long to go through medical school because she picked cotton every other year to pay for her tuition. Read more about Dr. Eliza Grier in the National Library of Medicine Exhibition, Changing the Face of Medicine, American’s Women’s Physicians, which was co-sponsored by AMWA. I was honored also to be a part of the exhibition.
Fast forward nearly two decades later. Author Janis Daly contacted me about a historical novel she was writing. I was thrilled to find out that the lead character was yet another namesake, Dr. Eliza Pearson Edwards. In this fascinating novel, we get a glimpse of what it was like to be a woman physician in the early 20th century. The book touches on several themes — gendered norms and expectations, gender equity, military medicine, developmental disability, the 1918 flu pandemic, the beginnings of contraception and back-alley abortions, and more have striking relevance in the presence day. With a skillful pen, Daly brings these characters to life and reminds us of the cyclical nature of history and that if we look hard enough, we can find a mirror in the past that can help inform the present.
Join AMWA on Thursday, March 30 for a special event with author Janis Daly and a discussion of her new book, The Unlocked Path.