Monday, July 9, 2012

Pioneer Doctor: The Story of a Woman’s Work - Review

Published January 1st 2005 by TwoDot; ISBN 0762736542 (ISBN13: 9780762736546)

This book was loaned to me by a friend.

I enjoyed reading Pioneer Doctor: The Story of a Woman's Work. It was refreshing to see the struggles and accomplishments of a western woman, when so many biographies (and fiction) focus on the men of the West. Often the woman is the "supportive wife" the "hardworking sod-buster" and while those have always been necessary to the growing, 18th Century society, I like reading about a professional woman who succeeded in harsh social conditions.

Mari Graña has set down the a biographical story of her grandmother, Mary Babcock Atwater, who carved out opportunity in the frontier west. It begins at the end of the 19th century, during an era in women's history when those with strong will and positive thinking made a difference for the rest of us.

From Book Page:
When Mollie Babcock stepped off the train in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1890, she knew she had to start a new life. She'd left her husband and their medical practice in Iowa, and with only a few hundred dollars in her pocket and a great deal of pride, she set out to find a new position as a physician. Due largely to the fact that the mine owner's young wife was expecting their first child, she took a job as doctor to the miners at Bannack, Montana, and thus began her epic adventures in the Rocky Mountain West.

Using a narrative style, Graña portrays of Dr. Babcock's emotional problems of dealing with a divorce and trying to make her way in the male-dominated medical profession. Graña gives good pictures of both Mormon-dominated Salt Lake City, and the mining towns. She paints a vivid picture of both the harsh mountain environments and lifestyles of the times. She shows how Dr. Babcock dealt with not only the medical problems in the mining camps, but also tackled issues such as domestic violence and sanitary worries.

Through this book, I was enlightened about some of the circumstances of the mining areas--several of which are near where I live. There were a few places where the exposition of her situation seemed a bit long, but overall, I found this a well-written and fascinating story about a person who should be considered a true hero of the West.

Mari Graña is a freelance writer an editor in Santa Fe. Her book, Begoso Cabin, a regional history of New Mexico, won the Willa Cather Award (from Women Writing the West) in 2000 and the Southwest Writers Award in 1997.