Ozarks History Journal

Tag: Missouri

Forgotten Women of the Ozarks – Dr. Fannie Williams

Galena, Kansas, Weekly Republican, October 10, 1885.

Dr. Fannie Williams is elusive. Though she was well known in the Joplin area during the 1870s and 1880s, little is known about her.

Fannie may have been born and raised in Kansas. (In 1885, her father and brother both lived in Kansas.)

She attended medical school at the University of Iowa and graduated in 1876.

By 1877, she was living in Joplin and treating patients. Although it was uncommon for female doctors to treat male patients, Fannie treated men, women, and children.

She was known occasionally as Mrs. Dr. Fannie E. Williams.  In the 1880 Joplin census record, she was listed as a widow. Unfortunately, I have yet to determine her husbands name or find her marriage record.

In 1885, she was living and working in Carthage. “Her fame as a skillful surgeon and successful practitioner [enabled] her to establish herself in the new home in a short time.” She apparently had recently moved from Joplin to Carthage. Despite being a female in this era, she seemed to have little or no problem in being accepted as a qualified, competent doctor and was thus able to have a successful practice.

By 1886, Fannie was the superintendent of the Department of Health for the Carthage WCTU and regularly gave scientific lectures. At this time, the WCTU had a scientific education department, mainly focused on health, particularly the health benefits of abstaining from alcohol.

She still had ties to Kansas and even spoke in Garland as a state lecturer for the WCTU. She was invited to give a lecture there on July 3rd, 1886.

In 1886, the Missouri WCTU convention was held in Carthage and of course, Fannie was one of the speakers. She  lectured the ladies on wearing too tight clothing, apparently a pet peeve of hers.

Throughout the month of June, 1887, Fannie spent her time in an Ozark court room with Cora Lee. She was with her throughout her trial for the murder of Sarah Graham. (For more about the murder, click here.) Fannie and Cora likely met through the WCTU.

In December 1887, Fannie left the Ozarks and moved to Riverside, California, apparently for her health. She continued to practice medicine and work with the WCTU, lecturing about health.


Riverside (California) Daily Press, January 18, 1888

Fannie was sick for much of the year in 1889. In October, the Riverside Daily Press reported that her health was much improved and she hoped to return to work soon. Unfortunately, her condition worsened and she died in early November.

Volumes of Good Wishes

Postmarked Koshkonong, January 7, 1911 and addressed to Miss May Barnett in West Plains, Missouri:

Will write you a few lines. I got home all o.k. The roads wasn’t very muddy, just dusty of course. I didn’t have anybody along to push me in the mud.  Hope all you young folks will have a nice time and all, not forget me. But all not forget to attend church. May, tell Maud be very careful and not run another fellow off. I wish this card was longer so I could write more. Hope to hear from you soon. May, be sure and use my initials only for safe delivery. From Joe

May Barnett was born in Peace Valley, Sisson Township, Howell County, Missouri. She was 18-years-old at the time of the 1900 census, and lived with her parents and siblings. She was still living in Howell County with her parents in 1940. 

Missouri Books – A Review of Enemy Women

Paulette Jiles, Enemy Women (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 2002.)

That Paulette Jiles began her literary career as a poet is readily apparent throughout her work of prose set in southeastern Missouri, Enemy Women.  Giles was born in Salem, Missouri, and spent a portion of her childhood exploring the hills of the southeastern Ozarks.  It was a return to the Ozarks as an adult, for the sake of family research, that led her to write the story of a young Ozark girl’s adventures during the closing days of the Civil War. 

Just six months before the end of the Civil War, a troop of Union militia burn the Colley home and kidnap the father, events that would send the Colley children into the woods and down the muddy winter roads searching for help.  While attempting to discover her father’s whereabouts, our heroine, Adair Colley, is arrested as a Confederate spy and sent to a Union prison in St. Louis.  

Adair’s experiences in St. Louis serve to illustrate to her the differences between Yankees and mountaineers.  Adair realizes that she is seen as being different.  Her interrogator, a Union major, believing her to be a remnant of “some prehistoric people of the British Isles,” (78) forces her to read just to prove to himself that she can.  And though Adair can read, her accent is thick and her grammar somewhat backward, especially compared to the precise language of the major.  What Adair reads, and what the major hears, is filtered through his superior education and his perception of hill people.

It is taken for granted that Ozarkers are a superstitious group, and Ozark superstitions are scattered throughout the book, especially in regards to marriage.  Adair spends a considerable amount of time worrying about having to get married and feared marriage to the wrong man.  To this end, she threw salt in the fire, hoping in vain to see a message about her future husband.  She then tried to find his face in the water by means of a mirror over her shoulder, catching only a glimpse of her future intended before she dropped the mirror. 

Though the first use of the term “hillbilly” is murky, Giles confidently inserts the term in her book. It is usually used in either a condescending or derogatory manner.  When the major warns Adair against marrying “some hillbilly” (140) there is, for him, a little affection found in the term.  But Adair knows how she is perceived by the Union soldiers.  She determines “never to be caught riding astride” (245) since it was “something only hillbilly women” would do.  She believed she had no hope of remaining safe if she appeared to be a hillbilly because hillbillies are perceived to be just ignorant white trash.  To appear to be a low-class hillbilly would mean she could not count on being treated with respect.

Jiles understands the ways of Ozarkers; she understands how we interpret ourselves and how we are perceived by others.  She does not romanticize the Ozarks, or hillbillies, but writes of them with both affection and respect.  She occasionally writes with incomplete sentences, but she will be forgiven for this because her words are beautiful to read.  She also writes without the usual dialogue punctuation and she will be forgiven this also; if it occasionally makes the dialogue difficult to follow then the passage must be re-read.  This would certainly be no hardship.

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