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The work, religious, and political experiences of a widowed Irish-- Catholic housewife and ex-missionary. Her name is Mrs. Dwyer and she moved from Norfolk to Fredericksburg, helped organize the Equal Suffrage League in Fredericksburg and practiced medicine in China and in the U.S. until 1940. Also, a discussion of the Civil War.


TRANSCRIBED: 27 September 1983

Mrs. Dwyer: Someday I'm going to know better, like your son's fiancée. (Laughter) Why I have to look up half the words in the letter to be sure their spelled right. Their a awful nuisance. So, generally I just don't care and I write people I know and I know they know who I am and what I am and who are really friends. So, I write to (inaudible) and I think they keep my letters as museum pieces (Laughter) to see how many ways you can spell the same word. (Laughter)

Interviewer: Mrs. Dwyer, where did you go after you left Norfolk? (Pause) Where did you go after you left Norfolk? (Pause) When did you leave Norfolk?

Mrs. Dwyer: When did I leave Norfolk?

Interviewer: Uh-huh!

Mrs. Dwyer: I left Norfolk in uh, 1911, I reckon!

Interviewer: Where did you go?

Mrs. Dwyer: Yes! I Left Norfolk in the Fall of 1911. I left to (go to) Fredericksburg. To be their resident physician of the whole thing. A brand new school -- state school, normal school. Stayed there in Norfolk, I mean in Fredericksburg. They didn't need it. It was a normal school - over - yeah -- a perfectly good one and not overburdened at all. It's down there, near Lynchburg you know. The state normal school. (Fading) An old woman.

Interviewer: Was that where you had...

Mrs. Dwyer: The state had, the Democratic party handled everything for Fredericksburg for seven years. Yes, I had many of that, they didn't need a normal school in Fredericksburg at all. But, the state handled everything for them -- the Democrats -- I forget, 8 years, 9 years, something like that. So, they said, they better hurry up or they (the Democrats) were going over to the rank of the Republicans. (Laughter) So, I'm telling the truth, they really built that -- whole school -- and the Democrats running it and everything that all. And the Democrats (did that) to hold its voters together. So, of course when we had medicine, I examined every girl to see what her heart was like and so on. So, I could advise her teacher the physical direction. Somebody may be there with a rickety heart and I always had them do something. I think its very bad for people to sit around being invalids and so I thought it was better to have light exercise, better for the heart. Better to have light exercise than to have none. They went in for sprinting, bowling, and basketball. Like, if they had a bad heart, it may be to much of a tax. So, every girl had a physical examination. And then of course they were always having pains when they menstruated. And so on. But of course there is no medicine there at all. The president of the school, he caught his job in the Democratic pool. The highest he had gone to was the VMI and he didn't even finish that, but he was a deserving Baptist. (Laughter) He was the president of the school. And then of course, the teachers, uh, he came to see us one time. But he didn't have very much… he wasn't sure of his job. He had seven teachers much better equipped in education and personality and everything. And HE was to be the head of the school. It really was a political job. And he was afraid of us. Of course, he never went up against a woman doctor before. So, I didn't take anything off of him. I wouldn't of anyhow. I wouldn't stay there very long you know. There was no medicine there. With lots of good (inaudible). All over the halls. And we had riding three times a week and I had a grand time riding and I had a dog and I went picnicking with it. You know where I had an awful good time? There! But, of course, there was no medicine in it. So, I taught physiology in the Fall, and Botany in the Spring. I just needed, I'd been taught to analyze flowers when I was a child. In the Fall, they used to take us walking and taught us to analyze the flowers, you know. So, I could teach Botany all right. And then having graduated in medicine -- I was afraid of the normal school physiology. (Laughter) I didn't have to do any work for the thing and so I did teach that. I did that much for them. And then I did give everbody a physical examination and then after that I don't know what I...(Fading).There was once, but of course -- Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad. It runs straight through to Washington from Richmond. And of course, there is no different distances between them. It's just a few hours to anyplace, place along the track, along the line. So, the doctors in Fredericksburg, the good doctors. They not at all needing work because they don't live in New York and, uh, they had a good little hospital there in Fredericksburg and the doctor for very...(Fading) So, they didn't need me at all. They just wanted to have a (inaudible) They just wanted to have the - a -- Fredericksburg was (inaudible) And so they just wanted to practice among them. I wanted the lab to be where I put all my attention. So, it was the school and the dog and the hall. Equal attention. (Laughter) It was really a charming year you know. I rode a horse over the battlefield and rode back to Fredericksburg. I rode him down to the stable and walked back to the school, which was on Maria's High School. The road behind the high school... when the Trident Raiders from --Nobody knew we were in the sunken road, it doesn't show. It's down 7 to 8 feet to the bottom outside of the town of Fredericksburg. The river comes and the northern army was behind the river up on the heist and when they invaded us why they came across the river onto Fredericksburg town and you go thru the town and it comes out on the hill that the town is built on. And it looks as if it runs into this hill that is going up -- Maria's High School. It's a low hill. The school was built on one of them. So, but anywhere around it looks as though that slope runs onto the hill. You see, you see the stretch of the foot of the hill. But the first row knew because we killed nearly everyone of them. Everybody knew it was there. And old Burnside sent in two whole lines in exactly the same place. Can you imagine such and idiot? Imagine that! Of course he lost his job then. I felt sorry for him. I still do when I read the history of the Civil War. You know they were brave, fine boys and just because (inaudible) We didn't -- We did wasn't any reason at all for them to be superior and gentlemen. And what awful losses they had. Look, when Grant was in charge of all of them he knew the only easy to win that war was to destroy our army and he said so. After that first battle that was really a terrific thing just south of the Potomac you know. The Battle of the Wilderness! And it was a dreadful slaughter. And Grant's hated slaughter, he was very tenderhearted. Really, he was so sweet to us. I think he was wonderful at the surrender. And he, he knew who was the officers of great faith and who was bloodshed. So, he announced I'm going to fight the war along this line -- it it takes all summer! It was the way the battle was fought in May. "I am going to fight along this line if it takes all summer." It took him to next Febu...I mean April. The surrender was the middle of April. (Laughter) We were always laughing at that, that he would fight along our line, it took him all summer and it was May you know (Laughter) and it took him to next April. So, but he did, he lost a many men, killed and wounded, northern soldiers. As Lee had and his whole army. He had to surrender then because he had no more reserve. He already had a 16-year-old and 17-year-old in Lee's army. We had black-eyed peas. They'll grow anywhere. If you throw them out on the ground they'll grow. They don't have to be planted at all. And they grow anywhere and everywhere. And they're just loaded with protein. They say that's really what saved them from starvation. And I really believe it, you know. The army would sleep all over the ground. McClellan came down and backed but (Laughter) after taking all of that time. He got both ready and everything. And poor old -- It really and whenever the general's were defeated, they retreated back to Washington because they were so afraid. We'd go in and capture them. So, they were defeated on after the other but the difference between them and Grant was Grant said, "Our army would have to be destroyed. As long as we had an army we were going to fight." And therefore he would fight along these lines if it took him all summer. (Laughter) So, when the war was over, he had lost as many men, killed and wounded as General Lee had in his command. You know it was a terrible thing. We still had enough people left to retreat.

Interviewer: Let me ask you, how did you, what did you do after you left Fredericksburg? How did you get to China?

Mrs. Dwyer: Huh?

Interviewer: How did you get to China? What made you go there?

Mrs. Dwyer: How did I get there?

Interviewer: Uh-huh! What made you go there?

Mrs. Dwyer: I took a train out of San Fransisco school. And took the Toomaru and sailed, stopped by Honolulu, stopped by in Japan and landed in Shanghai. There I took another train and went up to the station called Woo-See.

Interviewer: Why did you go there? (Pause) Why did you go to China?

Mrs. Dwyer: I wanted to practice. I thought I'd go where there were lots of sick people and no doctors. (Laughter) So, that's what I did.

Interviewer: Did you go by yourself?

Mrs. Dwyer: Yeah. Of course, there were several returning missionaries on, but I was just always independent, you know. So, but the Japanese (inaudible) new line to compete with the English line. And the course was built for the Japanese. We had an American captain and an American doctor and the rest was Japanese officers and sailors.

Interviewer: When you got to China did you have to set up a clinic of a hospital? Was there a hospital there?

Mrs. Dwyer: Yes! They had a hospital there. I was -- It was aimed to please the Chinese. That's why I broke up with them -- my first station. Because they're ideas to be veterinaries was to be popular and be liked and have great influence with the Chinese. And my idea was to practice medicine as I had been taught it. What ever was the matter with them, I'd do what I could to help them. They didn't know anything about foreign medicine you know, at all. If you gave them zinc oxide and a friend of theirs had tar, they would complain about the medicine and not want it because I gave their friend black medicine. They always thought what they were getting was inferior. (Laughter) "You gave so and so black medicine and now here you're giving me white medicine. Well, I want black medicine like my friend has!" You know that's all they knew. I suppose that's all their medicine is good for, you know. So...

Interviewer: Is that where you met your husband, in China? Did you meet your husband in China?

Mrs. Dwyer: Yes! He was a priest, an Anglo-Catholic priest in the Episcopal Mission. And they had a priest that was in charge of every one of the Episcopal missions. A priest ran it and either he had to pay the money or pay the wages to the gardener. (Laughter) Yes, I met him there. So, we were married out there. And opened a new station. His furlough was due in a year, mine was due in five years. And I was very smart to marry him (Laughter) and go home on his furlough. And I got back you see in two years instead of five or six. (Laughter) Quite triumphant.

He was a very attractive husband, everybody was amazed what on earth he married me for. (Laughter) Oh boy, you know! It really was quite funny. One or two of them really set their cap on him.

Interviewer: Did you practice medicine when you came back and were married? Did you practice medicine when you came back and were married?

Mrs. Dwyer: Oh yes! I, uh, I was the only doctor around for awhile when we opened this new station, must have been 100 miles up the Grand Canal from the river and there was a Presbyterian hospital and mission about 30 miles above us on the same river, the same canal. So, I was really insulated. I was only 30 miles away from the hospital, a moral and good one run by the Presbyterians. So, but I see, after I, the year we were married it was his year to go home and so you got the regular rule was 8 months out the station, every five years. And uh, generally its was five and a half or six years because people who were teaching wanted to wait in their year, you know. And then you got, uh, women and children got about six weeks holiday every summer and then got three or four weeks now and again. The time I was there, there is something about it that makes me remember -- women bleed and give when they have their periods. Their first term of a calendar they don't want them to get anemic. They get acclimated, why then, why then they settle down and are alright. But at first, they really lose quite a bit of blood.

Interviewer: Did you make good friends among the Chinese? Did you make good friends among the Chinese?

Mrs. Dwyer: No one ever spoke the language well enough to make good friends. I told them I couldn't, told them so when I applied to go over to China. I applied first to go to India because I thought here (India) they wouldn't allow women patients to see men doctors. And so, I, and I never knew about those child marriages in China. They had rather legal performances and they don't actually marry until the child is grown, she is seventeen or so. But in India they actually had intercourse with these little girls. I knew, I did some postgraduate work in New York one furlough and there was a woman doctor from India and was taking the same course I was. So, I knew her, and she said they actually do have intercourse with these little girls. I rather thought it was the most awful thing. I never imagined they did. In China, they are engaged for years but they're not actually married until the girl is seventeen or eighteen years old. But she said that sometimes that little girls hips were dislocated when their husbands had intercourse with them. Imagine such a thing. I couldn't live with people as mean as that. I really couldn't. Of course, the Chinese run amuck, have a little murder, every now and then. It's nice, they cut your throat. (Laughter) Nothing more to it, very simple. So, well I never thought it would be bad to kill people you didn't like. (Laughter)

Interviewer: When did you first hear about Mao Tse-tung? When did you first hear about Mao in China?

Mrs. Dwyer: Hear about what?

Interviewer: When did you first here about Chairman Mao? When did you first hear about Mao in China?

Mrs. Dwyer: About what?

Interviewer: About Mao Tse-tung? The man who is now head of China.

Mrs. Dwyer: The man I married?

Interviewer: No, the man that's head of China now. When did you first hear about him?

Mrs. Dwyer: I still don't know who you said.

Interviewer: I'm talking about the Chinese man, the Chinese leader Mao.

Mrs. Dwyer: Mao Tse-tung!

Interviewer: Yes!

Mrs. Dwyer: I was back in America by that time.

Interviewer: Oh.

Mrs. Dwyer: I came to America on a regular furlough in 1939. In the fall of 1939. And I found my husband had an incurable cancer. And see we never went back. He died in the summer of 1940. I didn't want to go by myself because he was so helpful. My work then -- we lived in a station that had a big foreign hospital and two American doctors in it. And of course, so, they didn't need me, they were training Chinese doctors someway and we had an American nurse training medical nurses and so then I had these children, you see. I had these two children and uh, I didn't want to be away from them all the time. So, I taught them, they went to school. The Shanghai American School. The missions and businessmen built a school that prepared American children to enter American colleges so there wouldn't be any breaks between their high school and the American College and so, the missions all joined together to build it. And contributed you see! And the businessmen in Shanghai quite a few of them that are not Americans aided because it was such a good idea. Of course, we specificated (sic) to prepare children for American colleges. So, they just sat right in them when they went home instead of being delayed, you know with prep courses.

Interviewer: Did you practice medicine after your husband died? After you came back here? Did you practice medicine after your husband died after you came back here to the United States? What did -

Mrs. Dwyer: Practice?

Interviewer: Yeah, after your husband died -

Mrs. Dwyer: No.

Interviewer: What did you do?

Mrs. Dwyer: I would have to take -- I didn't want to practice. I wanted to be let alone and I wanted to be lazy. (Laughter) And, I, I, after we were married, and you see, my husband was in charge of the station and we had these outstations. We lived in a big city and the church was in a big city. All around in the country were these villages with chapels and I went out there once a month and told the people we were sick. And my husband went out once a month and gave them communion. He was the only priest in reach of them. We had what we had, what we call catechism. Chinese men also were really tested Christians and good fellows and there was one, one of those in every one of those stations and he could do burials, funerals and weddings. He couldn't consecrate the bread and the wine. He was not a priest. He had three years of the teaching of the history of the Bible and was getting familiar with the prayer book and the Bible which was all in Chinese. And then they lived in the station and we went out there and saw them once a month, saw everybody once a month. We went out in Chinese junks. We owned a junk and it was fun and our boatman would race the other junks on the canals and win. And my husband got good stuff for the boat. He got foreign material for the sail and our boat went lots of places because there was power in that sail. (Laughter) And we used to race the other boats, race, race, race. Lots of fun. And I always loved trips back. They had these big curves in some bridges and they were very artistic. The, they had an early spring. They had plum blossoms and they had peaches, pears and plums. They had regular plum gardens of lots of bushes all in bloom. In our part of China, they had lots of canals. They had canals instead of roads, there were no wheels. People took the freight around in junks. And there are people whose grandfathers never lived on land. The only thing they owned was a boat and the children would be born there and grow up on it. They'd all be boatmen and half of them couldn't swim. Isn't jt funny. The children used to have boards tied on their backs so if they fell in the canal they could be alright because they float on top you know. They were very funny. No matter how long their families had been living on the canal, they never learned to swim. Awfully odd that way.

Interviewer: Mrs. Dwyer, did you have big epidemics to fight there, disease, were there big epidemics like typhoid, malaria, and that kind of thing,, or was it sort of day-to-day health care?

Mrs. Dwyer: I don't know what your saying.

Interviewer: I'm saying did you have to fight any big epidemics like typhoid? Did you inoculate, give people shots for when a lot of people get the same illness?

Mrs. Dwyer: I don't know what you're saying.

Interviewer: I'm saying did you have to fight any big epidemics like typhoid? Did you inoculate, give people shots for when a lot of people get the same illness?

Mrs. Dwyer: Epidemics?

Interviewer: Uh-huh!

Mrs. Dwyer: Oh yes! Every summer we had, sometimes every summer we had cholera in my part of town. And it was depending on the type of how many deaths there were, some cholera is much frailer than others some are of a much more virile type. Ordinarily, hydrochloric acid in our stomachs will kill ordinary cholera. But there are some years it's a very tough type and very bad. That's when you get an epidemic. Flies will cause a universal. And they collect natural soil for fertilizer, so, what ever house has big earthen well or has jars, the top is open and they put their night soil in there and pour it in with the urine and everything and of course the flies leave their eggs all over the top of them and so their always hatching and they just don't believe it when you tell them how dangerous flies are. Of course, they kill more people than tigers have. But they just don't believe it when you tell them how dangerous flies are. There was somebody lecturing to the Chinese about flies and he had a very large chart of a fly showing how they carry dirt on their feet. And the snout, that they cut with and showing them how they carry the dirt and then dump it you know. It's something else how bad it was. So, one Chinese was heard saying to him, "Well no wonder foreigns are so afraid of flies when they grow as big as that." (Laughter) So, we took it that he missed the point.

Interviewer: What did you do with your time after you stopped practicing medicine? What did you do with your time after you stopped practicing medicine?

Mrs. Dwyer: What did I do with my time?

Interviewer: Mmm-hmm!

Mrs. Dwyer: Well, my little girl was living with me. That took up a bit of time. I'd like to walk in the afternoon. I liked to play tennis. I liked to be free. (Laughter) I never had any trouble, I don't have any trouble now, even when I'm not filling my time up. I must say I go to sleep when I don't mean to. (Laughter)

Interviewer: Mrs. Dwyer, were you involved in the suffrage movement? Were you in the suffrage, the women's voting movement?

Mrs. Dwyer: Women's suffrage?

Interviewer: Uh-huh!

Mrs. Dwyer: Yes! I was. I have organizers in Fredericksburg. That's one thing that's a threat to our President so much. (Laughter) He didn't think the Baptists would approve. (Laughter) Yeah! There were eight of us organizing equal suffrage and we got some ladies up from Richmond to talk for us in the courthouse, Of All Things! A women talking in the courthouse. So, we did. Of course, everybody went and we got Mrs. Valentine in a beautiful dress, it was all silver lace over a satin underlining and a lovely lace hat and long gloves and we wrote a letter and in Richmond they were tapping their mail. She was one of the most permanent women in Richmond then. So, we got her to come and we got Mary Johnson to come, who looked like an ugly little bulldog and she had on an untidy shirtwaist you know. It had been rolled up and down, her shoes were muddied and there was a big circular skirt that was too full, it didn't hang in good line but she had written several very popular books. Everybody knew Mary Johnson. Her books were very readable, really very good. She belonged, they sent her when we wrote down to her society to send somebody to introduce the movement to Fredericksburg. And of course, it's full of old families,. The streets you would think had princes and princesses out in England, you know. And then, it's a poets side that has a great many educated families. So, they sent the best they had. We had a dinner for them, there were twelve of us. So, we had a dinner, a very good one. They spoke that night, so we could entertain them feeding them during the day. So, it was more fun,. Then, Mrs. Valentine was the first one to read. So, she got up, beautiful woman, beautifully dressed. So, at the table she told she went down when the legislature was meeting to see if she could get equal suffrages into committee. Because it hadn't gone into committee ever. So, she wanted to see, she was down there lobbying and one of her father's friends came over. (Laughter) He said, "My dear, what are you doing down here?" (Laughter) So, she said, "I'm lobbying to get equal suffrage into committee. And he said, "Oh my dear, your father would be shocked, do go home, this is no place for you." So she said, "Well it ought to be, that's just the point." So she told us that joke you know at the dinner party. But when she was speaking in the Fredericksburg courthouse she said, I was down there the last time the legislature met, lobbying to see if I could get it into committee. I didn't really get anywhere with it at all and so, she said, umm, she said of course, we are, you are men with a decise decision to make.