(On this date, November 15, 2018, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present for the first time anywhere the first of the three members of the OCHF Class of 2018.)
When we consider the stereotypical negative reception that a female medical doctor practicing her profession endured from most patients – and, sadly, yes, her fellow colleagues as well – in Kansas during the latter 19th Century, one generally pauses to admire the courage and resolve of such trained professionals whenever we come across them in our history. We more than paused when we discovered that not one, but two such doctors – sisters – who were active medical practitioners and who lived and worked in Osborne County during the homesteading period of 1870-1910. It is with great pleasure that Arabelia and Lucy (Cowell) Thompson, the sisters who married brothers, take their special place in the Osborne County Hall of Fame.
In the year 1846 22-year old Christopher Columbus Cowell joyously married Rebecca Harmon in Pennsylvania. The couple would raise four children: son Madison and daughters Arabelia, Lucy, and Mary. Arabelia Anna Cowell was born January 3, 1850 in Tunkhannock Township, Monroe County, Pennsylvania. The next year the family moved to Rock Creek Township, Carroll County, Illinois, where Lucy Arabella Cowell was born November 11, 1851.
By 1870 the Cowell family was living in Elkhorn Grove Township, Carroll County, Illinois. Both Arabelia and Lucy attended Mount Carroll Seminary (later called Shimer College) in nearly Mount Carroll, Illinois and in 1872 graduated from Hahnemann Medical College at Chicago, Illinois, with degrees in homeopathic medicine.
The Hahnemann Medical College opened in 1860 and became coeducational in 1871. During this time period in our national history there were perfectly legal medical institutions who trained practitioners in alternative medical practices to what was taught in what we would label the “regular” medical colleges. Homeopathy was the most popular alternative, especially among well-educated segments of society. The homeopathic theory of medicine held that drugs should be tested to determine their effects, that a drug which causes specific symptoms in a well person should be used in diluted form to treat those same symptoms in an unwell person, and that by utilizing these methods over time the body can be trained to heal itself. Except for the emphasis upon homeopathic therapeutics, instruction at Hahnemann resembled that found in Chicago’s “regular” medical schools.
Immediately after graduation Arabelia and Lucy Cowell settled in Sterling, Whiteside County, Illinois, where they opened a joint medical practice.
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“We would call the attention of the public of Sterling and vicinity, to the advertisement of the Misses Drs. Cowell, in another column of this paper. These young ladies have prepared themselves for the practice of their profession by an extensive and thorough course of study, graduating at the last annual commencement of the Hahnemann Medical College, of Chicago, with the highest honors of their class. We would recommend those in need of medical advice or treatment, to give the Drs. Cowell a call. Special attention is given by them to diseases incident to those of their own sex, though they are prepared to treat all classes of disease. Office over Machamer & Gable’s Confectionery store, on Mulberry Street.” – Sterling Standard, Sterling, Illinois, May 16, 1872, Page 1.
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On November 17, 1873 Lucy Arabella Cowell married Mayo Clare Thompson in Elkhorn Grove Township, Carroll County, Illinois. Mayo was born October 10, 1850 in Cornish, Maine. He lived in Dane County, Wisconsin in 1860, and by 1870 in Black Hawk Township, Grundy County, Iowa. After their marriage Mayo and Lucy moved to Reinbeck, Black Hawk Township, Grundy County, Iowa. There they had two children, Mary Rebecca and Sydney Roy.
Meanwhile, Mayo’s older brother Curtis Austin Thompson was getting to know Lucy’s older sister Arabelia. Curtis was born April 7, 1846 in Cornish, Maine. He met Arabelia Anna Cowell in 1873 at his brother’s wedding. From 1873 to 1876 Curtis had a government position at Washington, D.C. Finally on August 18, 1876 he married Arabelia in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The next year they moved to Fairfield County, Grundy County, Iowa, where they had two children, Lewis William and Sarah Pauline. In 1879 they moved to Reinbeck, Black Hawk Township, Grundy County, Iowa, where Arabelia opened a practice and Curtis operated a creamery. While there the couple’s third child was born, Ray Harmon.
1879 was the year that Mayo and Lucy bought a partially-proved up homestead claim located in Section 35 of Independence Township, Osborne County, Kansas, some eleven miles southwest of the county seat of Osborne City, and moved west from Reinbeck. Their first home was a log house. Later Mayo built two frame houses and a large barn. On the homestead Mayo hunted deer, antelope and, buffalo. In later years he hunted prairie chickens, quail, ducks, and geese. Some of these were salted, packed in barrels and shipped east. Lucy opened her medical practice and often watched over the patients of other physicians in the area whenever they were away. In September 1881 Mayo finished “proving up” the claim and used it as the foundation of what would become the 1,182-acre Thompson Ranch.
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In 1882 Curtis and Arabelia Thompson moved their family to Independence Township, Osborne County, Kansas, onto an adjoining farm next to Mayo and Lucy. The brothers pooled their land to form the growing ranch as the wives resumed their medical practice via horse and buggy, both being referred to as “Dr. Mrs. Thompson”. Things were fine until August 1883, when Lucy contracted pneumonia from a patient she was caring for.
“Mrs. Dr. Thompson of Covert is reported as seriously ill. Dr. VanScoyoc has been in attendance.” – Osborne County News, August 16, 1883.
“Mrs. Dr. Thompson of Bristow, the lady who had charge of Dr. VanScoyoc’s practice during his absence in Colorado, died very suddenly on Sunday morning.” – Osborne County Farmer, August 23, 1883.
Lucy Arabella Thompson died on August 19, 1883. The mother of two was buried in the nearby Bristow Cemetery.
Curtis and Arabelia lived on the ranch for another ten years. Curtis devoted his time to raising livestock and was one of the first people to introduce alfalfa to Kansas. Their fourth child, Lee Austin, was born on the ranch in October 1883. Then came three more children, Phoebe, Edward Wayne, and Prentice Madison. In the spring of 1892 Curtis and Arabelia moved to the town of Osborne, Kansas, both to give their children better school advantages and Arabelia the chance to practice her profession in an urban setting. Their final child, a son, was born the next year but lived only a short time. They continued to operate the ranch until 1905, when it was sold.
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Dr. Arabelia Anna Thompson’s advertisement in the Osborne County Farmer newspaper of May 24, 1894.
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Osborne County Doctors Meet.
“The Osborne County Medical Society met in Osborne on January 9, Dr. T. O. Felix, vice-president, presiding. The minutes of the previous meeting were read and approved. Drs. Armstrong, Dillon, Chilcott, T. O. and T. B. Felix, Walker, Thompson and Henshall present. The advisability of erecting and maintaining a hospital in Osborne to be known as the Osborne County Hospital, to be incorporated and open to all patients, physicians and surgeons was introduced and discussed. A committee was appointed to investigate its feasibility and report its findings to the next regular meeting of the society. The secretary was instructed to send the record of this meeting to each newspaper in the county. A paper “Quacks and Their Ways”, was read by Dr. Armstrong and discussed by the society. Dr. B. F. Chilcott was elected president of the society for 1906; Dr. T. O. Felix, vice-president; Dr. E. O. Henshall, secretary; Dr. A. A. Thompson, treasurer; and Dr. J. H. Walker, member of board of censors for three years. No further business appearing the society was adjourned to meet in Osborne on the 2nd Tuesday in February, 1906. E. O. Henshall, secretary.” – Downs Times, January 18, 1906.
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In 1901 Curtis Thompson and his son Lewis bought a machine and blacksmith shop in Osborne. They operated it until February 8, 1908, when it was destroyed by fire, and they did not rebuild.
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MACHINE SHOP BURNED
Fire Causes Loss of Three Thousand Dollars.
“Thursday evening shortly before 11 o’clock the fire alarm bell summoned the department to the machine shops of C. A. Thompson & Son, on South Street, which had been discovered to be ablaze. That is hardly the right term. The whole interior of the building was a roaring mass of flames, which had not then broken through the roof. A fiercer fire has not occurred in this city in several years, but fortunately the damage was confined to the building in which it started. Surrounding buildings were very damp, having been crusted with ice the previous day, and the roofs were wet with melting snow, or there would have been a different story to tell. The fiercest fire was located near the business office, where a quantity of mixed paint and lubricating oil was stored, adding to the difficulty of extinguishing the fire. The alarm was not turned in until the fire had gained considerable headway, the shops being so located that even nearby residents would hardly notice it, and the time of night being when most of our people had gone to bed. The fire department responded promptly to the call, as did also a big crowd of spectators. A breeze from the northwest prevented the alarm bell from being heard in the western arid northern parts of the city and many of our people did not learn till next morning that there had been a fire. It was about 4 a.m. Friday before the firemen thought it safe to leave the ruins. The, contents of the shop, including a buggy belonging to C. H. Nicholas, a gasoline engine owned by B. P. Walker, and a separator and all necessary machinery for making repairs, were either consumed by the fire or so badly warped and twisted as to be practically worthless. The loss is estimated to be something like $3,000, with no insurance. We understand that the shops will not be rebuilt.” – Osborne County Farmer, February 20, 1908.
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In 1910 Curtis and Arabelia moved to West Arvada in Jefferson County, Colorado to live with their son Lee. In July 1910 Arabelia made a trip to Waterloo, Iowa to deliver her grandson, Frederick Yoxall Thompson, son of Ray. The next year Curtis and Arabelia went to live with their son Lewis in Ontario, San Bernardino County, California, and in 1914 they moved to Orange, Orange County, California. It was there that Arabelia Anna (Cowell) Thompson died on November 22, 1915. She was laid to rest in Fairhaven Memorial Park at Santa Ana, Orange County, California.
Judy Thompson, Telluride, Colorado.
Downs Times, January 18, 1906.
Osborne County Farmer, September 15, 1881; August 23, 1883; May 24, 1894; February 20, 1908.
Osborne County News, August 16, 1883.
Sterling Standard, May 16, 1872.
Osborne County Genealogical & Historical Society, The People Came (1977), ppgs. 186-188.
Thompson Family Genealogy, prepared by Curtis Austin Thompson and Ray Harmon Thompson. Unpublished.
1860 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d., Year: 1860; Census Place: Rock Creek, Carroll, Illinois; Roll: M653_159; Page: 918.
1870 U.S. census, population schedules. NARA microfilm publication M593, 1,761 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d., Year: 1870; Census Place: Elkhorn Grove, Carroll, Illinois; Roll: M593_191; Page: 108B.
http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/805.html, “Medical Education”.