So We All May Be Heard
by Marlene Cook, Historian
In 1885, Dr. Julia Holmes Abbot Smith, a physician, suffragist and club woman, helped organize IWPA. Her model was the National Woman's Press Association, founded at the New Orleans Exposition, where women journalists found it difficult to get publicity for the woman's events.
Born December 23, 1838, to a rich cotton broker in Savannah, GA, she lived
in luxury. The family moved to New Orleans in 1847 where Julia and her four
brothers had fun sliding down the carpeted staircase on heavy silver trays,
rode horseback, and she was tutored in Latin, Greek, algebra, calculus and the
She graduated in 1856 from Abbot Collegiate Institute for Young Ladies in New York where she met Waldo Abbot, the nephew of the principal, and married him in 1860. The young couple struggled because of Waldo's ill health, a series of failed business ventures and her father's wartime financial ruin. Her husband died of yellow fever in 1864.
Julia and her two children moved to Connecticut to be near her husband's family. When her infant daughter died, she left her 16-month-old son with his grandfather and returned with her mother to New Orleans where she became a drama writer for the New Orleans Picayune.
In 1872, Julia married Sabin Smith, a merchant with two grown daughters. They had a daughter together the following year.
Smith paid her tuition to Boston University Medical School in 1873. When he was transferred to New York, she studied with a private doctor and treated women textile workers without charge.
The Smiths moved to Chicago in 1876; Julia became involved in the Association for the Advancement of Women to improve economic, educational and social conditions for women. She completed her medical education at the Chicago Homeopathic College in 1877 and practiced homeopathic family medicine in Chicago for the next 40 years.
Julia founded a clinic for poor women at Dwight Moody's Chicago Avenue Church, assisting them in learning to help themselves. She became a lecturer and director of the Illinois Training School for Nurses and was a professor, then dean, of the National Medical College. She also served as consulting physician at the Frances Willard Temperance Hospital.
She gained a reputation as an authority of diseases and lifestyles of women and children through her practice and writings. Her active club life provided her with contacts to advance her medical career and her reformist philosophy.
Illinois Governor John Altgeld appointed her the first woman trustee at the University of Illinois in 1895. She served on the instruction and financial committees and was chair of the Student's Welfare Committee.
Julia retired at age 78 in 1917, but remained active in many professional, literary and medical societies. She died of myocarditis and senility at age 91 in North Shore Nursing Home, Winnetka, and was cremated at Graceland cemetery in Chicago.
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