“I know a better way to get a mule to pull.” And the speaker, a woman, slight of figure, climbed down out of the wagon, waded through the mud of the Khami River, in which the vehicle had become stuck fast, and offered the stubborn mule a sanitarium biscuit. But the mule was angry, rather than hungry, and the woman retreated, leaving a portion of her sleeve in the mule’s mouth, and the driver was left to get the wagon out in his own way. The woman who had revolutionized the nursing profession in America, who had invaded man’s realm by entering medical school in the University of Michigan, being graduated with the first women who were granted degrees from that institution, meekly gave up when it came to moving a balking mule.
She was born of Scotch parentage in a little log cabin on the bank of Lake Manona near Madison, Wisconsin, September 11, 1842. She was a precocious child, having inherited unusual courage, a desire to know the unknown; and with that desire was coupled a free and independent spirit far beyond the comprehension of her parents. There seemed to be bound up in her all the strange characteristics of her ancestry. Her own father had been a gardener to a rich lord in Scotland, and her mother, a waiting maid to the lady. On the Lindsay side she was a descendant of Lord Lindsay of Queen Mary’s reign; and her grandmother on her mother’s side was Jeanette Livingstone, a cousin to David Livingstone, the great African missionary and explorer. This child, Kate Lindsay, she was named, was “Scot to the backbone.”
Today the ancestral home of the Lindsays, standing on the hill overlooking the fruitful valley, all under cultivation, tells nothing of the struggles of the pioneers in what was then known as the sod-house frontier country. Then it took great strength of character and a great vision to continue the struggle to build a home in the wilderness.
At night the doors of the log houses had to be bolted, for hungry coyotes, wolves, and panthers, attracted by the smells coming from the cabins, threw themselves heavily against the doors, hoping to gain entrance.
Kate Lindsay secured her first introduction to books in a rude cabin made of logs. Her school desk was made of a log, split in half, with the flat side up. Her slate pencil was a stick, long and pointed at the end, and her first slate was a level place in front of the schoolhouse where the soil had been pulverized and smoothed over to make a writing surface. To Kate all this was a luxury.
In order to reach the schoolhouse, she had to walk several miles through dense forest and rough underbrush. She was the oldest of eight children, four of whom did not live, and for a while she had to go alone. Then there were neighbor children who helped to make the way seem less lonely, and later the younger children were old enough to go, glad for the protection of Sister Kate. But distance and hardship meant nothing to her, unless it served as an impetus to make her prove to herself that she could cope with whatever confronted her. She learned rapidly, and soon was devouring every book that came her way, reading from cover to cover, and absorbing what she read. But she did not slight household duties. When the younger children were little, she helped faithfully, promising her mother that she would remain at home until Mary, the youngest, was sixteen. She was strong and capable, and in good health.
Night after night in that early pioneer home the mother would read to the children books and literature that eventually molded the type of reading of her ambitious daughter. One story illustrates the effect of this type of guidance on Kate. She was but a little girl when one evening the mother was reading in front of the fireplace, as usual, to the listening children. Kate sat on the floor at her feet, listening intently to every word. It happened to be the story of Palestine, and told of the travels of some noted persons to the Holy Land. Just at this time young Kate was engaged in the construction of a wagon during her spare time. The next day she completed her project, and proudly exhibiting it to her mother, she announced gaily, “I’m starting for Palestine today in my wagon.” Little did she realize that there would come a day when she would visit not only Palestine but also many of the far-off places on the African continent, and that she would there play a very definite part in the service of God and in launching the type of training that would prepare countless women for His service in all parts of the world.
Women who learned more than merely to read and write were fortunate indeed during the time when Kate Lindsay was growing to womanhood. And as she read and thought, her very soul would almost burst at times with rebellion at the restrictions that kept women tied down to household duties, and permitted them no part in the great work of, to her, the very interesting and exciting world. The time she spent waiting for the day to come when she could go out into the world and accomplish something unusual and difficult, seemed to her utterly useless years. She did not know yet what she would do, but she studied constantly, reading every book she could find.
One day she was given a book containing a biography of Florence Nightingale. There! Why hadn’t she thought of that before? She would be a nurse. And now that her ideas had taken definite form, her study became more ardent than ever — if that were possible. She studied phrenology, geology, zoology, and every other “ology” about which she could find any written material that she had the vaguest idea would be of help in her chosen profession when she came to enter it. Fortunately, she was of a religious turn of mind, so that the false theories that she heard and read were exposed as she proceeded to study more carefully the Word of God. Fortunately, too, she was always very practical, and her scientific curiosity was never satisfied until she could see the practical application of the knowledge gained.
For a while there was one thing that kept her parents from distraction over the way in which their eldest was going. From early childhood she had evinced a deeply religious nature, reading her Bible faithfully and attending church services regularly. Her father and mother reasoned that as she grew older she would come to her senses and settle down to the life that other girls lived. But there came to her a religious experience that caused even more astonishment and perplexity to Mr. and Mrs. Lindsay. They were stanch Presbyterians. Kate, after studying her Bible some and attending a series of Methodist protracted meetings, decided that Presbyterians did not have all the light the Bible taught, and became a member of the Methodist Church. But this was not yet the end! An itinerating preacher came into the neighborhood and began preaching in the schoolhouse. He had pictures of images and queer-looking animals, some with four heads, and some with wings on their backs, which he explained, after reading about them in the Bible. Kate attended these meetings regularly, taking notes as the preacher spoke, and comparing them the next day with the things she read in her own Bible.
No doubt her interest in this strange religion was intensified by the opposition this man met. In those days every preacher denounced Seventh-day Adventists and warned his people against them.
Kate had sought every opportunity to understand her Bible more fully, and she became one of the regular attendants. She decided that every point of the third angel’s message, as preached by Isaac Sanborn, was in accordance with Bible teaching, and, in spite of the protests of her family, she became one of a stanch little company of Seventh-day Adventists. Later her entire family accepted the same truths, but not until after a long, fierce conflict, especially on the part of her mother.
Romance came to Kate when she was eighteen, and it so filled her heart with the joy of love that it was always remembered as the brightest part of her life. A young Mr. Porter came to the neighborhood in which she lived, and taught the country school. Her evident superiority and intelligence attracted him to her. They found things of mutual interest. Kate was familiar with even the progress of the political parties, and he had read of the great work of Florence Nightingale, and was thus sympathetic with Kate’s ambitions. Soon a warm friendship sprang up between these two, and in due course of time they decided to cast their lot together. She threw her whole heart and life into preparation for her marriage, as she had done with everything in which she was interested, forgetting for a time her ambition to become a nurse. But this boundless happiness was soon to end. The Civil War began, taking with it the life of her lover, who died of pneumonia while in a training camp in Milwaukee. She was grief stricken. She had found in her lover a sympathetic and understanding companion, and when he had gone, she was left alone to fight out her life problem. She made no more intimate friends, rather shutting herself in from those with whom she associated, so that many who knew her thought her hardhearted, unsympathetic, and unkind. They thought that her experience had hardened her. But underneath this exterior was a heart that beat with longing for understanding and companionship, that yearned for the sympathetic touch of the hand of a friend. Through it all she maintained an indomitable courage and an unswerving purpose which fired her as she went about her daily tasks, still studying, still planning for her future work when the children were old enough for her to leave home.
During those years of waiting, Kate Lindsay kept in touch with the developments of the work that Florence Nightingale had been carrying on in the Crimea, and fully informed herself relative to the new movement for the preparation of professional nurses that was being developed in the St. Thomas Hospital. The results of this school were far reaching, and it was not difficult for Kate’s keen mind to grasp its relationship and need in this country, where hospitals were still in the pioneer stage, and where nurses were not worthy of the name. In the hospitals of New York City there was the Mrs. Sairey Gamp type of worker, and hospitals were known as places where people went to die. There was no place in this country where a young woman could secure an organized course of instruction in nursing. There was much conflict in the field of medical practice. Pills and potions were largely the curative measures used by the average practitioner. The use of natural remedies, such as fresh air, sunlight, rest, water, and diet, was given little thought by the large percentage of medical men. In fact, bathing was discouraged, and articles appeared in some of the leading medical journals opposing bathing and the use of water.
There were scattered throughout the country what were known as water cure institutions. One of the most important of these was conducted by Dr. Thatcher Trall, in Florence Heights, New Jersey. Associated with Dr. Trall were two or three physicians, one a prominent practitioner from Germany, where these natural therapeutic measures had secured wider recognition among medical circles than they had received in the United States.
Kate learned of this institution through a magazine known as the Water Cure Journal, of which Dr. Trall was the editor. Sensible presentations of the treatment of disease and the use of these practical measures appealed to the keen mind of this young woman, and she determined that she would go to this institution and learn these most practical measures in caring for the sick. Although opposed by her parents, and because of this opposition given no financial support, she finally reached the health institution in New Jersey, and remained two years, studying, and gaining from her experiences all that she could regarding the care of the sick.
The two years in the New Jersey institution awakened in her ardent soul a deeper desire to know more about sickness and disease, so that she might minister more intelligently to those who would call upon her. We have reason to believe that had nursing education been developed in that day to the degree that it would satisfy an inquiring mind of the type of Kate Lindsay’s, she would not have aspired to the study of medicine, for in the years that followed, she spent the major part of her time in making use of her knowledge to improve the status of nursing in this country.
In 1870, when Kate was twenty-eight, she entered the University of Michigan as a medical student. This Ann Arbor institution was one of the first to grant entrance to women to its medical school. There was opposition to the plan on the part of some members of the faculty, and even the townspeople looked askance at any young woman who would attend a boys’ college. When Kate entered the university, she was required to take the entrance examinations. These included mathematics, algebra, geometry, Greek, and Latin. The examinations were all oral, and their degree of severity was often determined by the attitude of the professor toward girls in the school. The Greek professor was bitterly opposed to admitting women to the university, and it was with fear and trembling that the girls faced this examination. “Well, miss, what do you know about Greek?” And his eagle eyes would peer down at the frightened girl from the rostrum where he sat. He had Kate translate pages of Greek material, and decline nouns and adjectives. He asked her for the comparatives and superlatives of all the irregular adjectives. He would have kept on indefinitely had the room not darkened so that it was difficult to see.
No, they were not easy, those entrance examinations. And it is evidence of the application and thoroughness of Kate Lindsay’s academic preparation that she passed creditably and was admitted to the class as a regular student. And not only did she meet the entrance requirements, but of such high quality was her work, and also that of the other girls, that the board of regents voted, in 1876, that coeducation in the University of Michigan had become an established fact. The girls not only became a recognized group of students in the university, but it was not long until the community learned that they were often more ideal roomers than were the men. They were not quite so destructive of the furnishings, and they were not so noisy and boisterous.
The records of the University of Michigan give us the information that “Catherine Lindsay, aged thirty-three, was a senior, October, 1875, and that she lived as a student at 318 Ingall Street, Ann Arbor.” She roomed with another girl. She had the highest rating of any student in her class.
As Dr. Kate Lindsay she was now able to begin her lifework. With a sound general education, the best she could secure, together with a foundation such as was offered in nursing, and with her added knowledge secured at the University of Michigan, she was well qualified to join the staff of the Battle Creek Sanitarium. She did not allow that faculty to rest day or night until they had conceded to her vision that there must be established in connection with the educational features of that institution a school of nursing.
Bellevue Hospital, in 1873, had only just established a school for nurses. However, nursing as an educational procedure was greatly frowned upon, and it took courage to push the new venture. It was not long until the entire staff at Battle Creek had caught something of her vision of the need of trained workers in the care of the sick, but it took the determination possessed by Lord Lindsay, her paternal ancestor, to stand against them with insistence when they said, “It can’t be done.” For, as was true in the pioneer work in the early school in Bellevue, the place of this new school among Seventh-day Adventists, so closely related to the medical institution, was not clearly defined; consequently student education was often sacrificed to meet the immediate needs of an ever-increasing patient list. Kate Lindsay would see to it that education of student nurses should be defined.
A shortage of help often came in conflict with the objectives in the training of student nurses, and Dr. Lindsay insisted that students should not miss their organized class instruction. She became one of the foremost instructors. She was untiring in her efforts to prepare every student in every phase of the nursing service. She was artful in questioning students, and those who sat in the back seats were the greatest victims of her untiring questions.
It was indeed unfortunate for the student who was not keenly interested in nursing care of the sick, for both in the classroom and in connection with the practical clinical application of instruction, Kate Lindsay’s keen interest was in the welfare of the patient, and she expected everyone who was devoting himself to this sacred task to give all his interest and effort to that end. She had little sympathy for students who would try to get by. She taught them that nursing was more than floating airily in and out of a sickroom dressed in a becoming white uniform and speaking superficial words, which did not comfort the wearied hearts of those who must have understanding as well as words. They learned that beneath technical knowledge there must be a heart that feels the sufferings of the human family, and an undying desire to do all in one’s power to alleviate such suffering. Her early lectures to her classes were published in book form in 1893, and there is still preserved the voluminous stenciled notes she provided for her classes in later years. These notes give mute evidence of the thoroughness with which she approached her every task.
Though she insisted on a reasonable working day, she was not unaware that certain patients require nursing care beyond the ordinary. She herself would often remain up an entire night to assist in the care of a critically ill patient whose life hung in the balance; and she taught the students, through practical application, some of the principles relative to the conservation of their own health, and made it clear that personal comfort must be sacrificed when real emergencies rise in ministry to the sick. She believed that only by the regular conservation of health was a person able to meet successfully the emergencies of life.
Dr. Lindsay’s introduction of every individual student to this pioneer nursing school was unique. Each one was required to have a long conference with her before she could be admitted to the school. Dr. Lindsay conversed with prospective students to ascertain their ideals and standards of life. She critically surveyed their attire. Healthful dress, she felt, was one of the most important measures. For many years she was one of the group of women, not only in Seventh-day Adventist ranks, but in the outstanding women’s reform-dress organization of the world, who tried to change the unhygienic clothing that fashion decreed as the dress of the women of her day. This costume was a tight wasp corset, crinoline, and hoops. In fact, girls were so hampered by their dress that, had they not joined the women’s dress-reform movement and shown some independence in their type of dress, they could not have competed with men in educational or professional circles. The tight waist alone, which caused the death of many women, and the long, heavy skirts, brought untold misery to thousands, many of whom came to the Battle Creek Sanitarium for treatment. Dr. Lindsay wished the students in the school of nursing to be representatives of proper and healthful dress, and a part of her introductory lecture to every student centered upon this subject. Her parting words as the student would slowly disappear from her office would often be, “And remember that when I see you next time, that corset must be off.”
Diet also had a large part in this early pioneer movement in nursing education, and most unusual of all, Dr. Kate saw to it that this school placed great emphasis upon natural remedies in the treatment of the sick. Physical therapy even then was an important phase in the preparation for the nursing profession. Dr. Lindsay and her associates built well, as is evidenced by the fact that the school was recognized by the outstanding nursing educators of that day, and history records that a representative of that school was invited to join the group of women who met at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893, when was born what is now known as the National League of Nursing Education, the most influential organization in nursing education in this country.
Dr. Lindsay, through pen and voice, discouraged the eating of sweets and other knickknacks between meals. She believed in using paper handkerchiefs as a sanitary measure. She taught isolation technique in the care of communicable diseases. She religiously advocated the importance of good circulation. She held against the long skirts, trailing the floor or the sidewalk, a contempt which she could not conceal. One day, when walking down the corridor in the sanitarium, she accidentally stepped on the train of one of the guests. “I never apologize for stepping on anything that is on the floor,” was her only comment.
She talked little of germs and more of cleanliness. “No disinfectant is better than yellow laundry soap and elbow grease, she would say. She believed that sickness was not a visitation of Providence, but was brought upon the human race through their own violation of the simple principles of the laws of health. She believed that one of the greatest services a nurse could render was to become a health educator in every home she entered to care for the sick. She emphasized water drinking as a necessary hygienic measure for the internal cleansing of the system.
Not only was Dr. Lindsay an advocate of the principles of health reform and health conservation, both by precept and by example, but she was a voluminous writer, and often could be seen with paper and pencil in the midst of books and journals spread out before her. She contributed extensively to the most popular magazines of her day, both medical and general. She established a nursing club in connection with the community in which she spent the later part of her life. She attended regularly medical society meetings, and it was said that the leader of the medical society in Boulder, who was president of the university there, considered Dr. Lindsay the best-informed physician in that section of the State.
In 1891 the first medical missionaries were sent to South Africa. Dr. Lindsay joined the group just four years later. Unfortunately, she did not stay in England long enough to secure the necessary credentials for admittance to the medical profession in Africa, and she had to practice under the license of Dr. Anthony, who was medical superintendent of the Plumstead Sanitarium. This was a sore trial to one of her independent spirit, but the medical men of Cape Town soon learned that Dr. Lindsay had something to offer them, and she became well known as a consultant in critical cases, and was called for consultation by some of the best practitioners of that city.
While in Africa, Dr. Lindsay visited the Solusi Mission. She had conducted classes on the problems of healthful living in pioneer missions for workers in Cape Town, and now she wished to see the actual conditions under which these missionaries must live in an isolated institution. She left Cape Town on a train and arrived at the mission on mule-back, just at the close of the Matabele War, while the bones of the natives who had starved following the burning of the wheat crops by the English were still bleaching on the plains just a few miles from the mission. After much arguing and persuading, she was able to get one of the skeletons for her educational work in Cape Town.
She gave lectures on healthful living to the chiefs and headmen of the tribes, she eager to give of her store of knowledge, but wherever she saw a need, she opened her purse to contribute from her limited funds. When she left Solusi the workers were made happy with the gift of a pump and a windmill.
Though Dr. Lindsay’s foreign mission service was short, it gave her sufficient opportunity to observe the needs of the mission workers, and through her pen and voice in the years that followed she did much to mold the policy of our great missionary movement.
When she returned to the States in 1899, at the age of fifty-seven, she connected with the Boulder-Colorado Sanitarium, and there, as in the earlier days of her medical ministry, she devoted the major part of her time to the interest of the school of nursing.
During the last days of her life, Dr. Lindsay was quite feeble from rheumatism and the general weakness of old age, but her mind was clear on most subjects, and she enjoyed most talking of the work she dearly loved.
Remembering how God had blessed her services, she was thankful for the privilege of being His humble servant. On March 30, 1923, she went quietly to sleep, leaving behind her a priceless heritage to womankind. Out of her lengthened shadow has grown an organization of consecrated, well-trained missionary nurses, efficiently doing its part to minister to the suffering world.
Committed to Caring
Adventism’s first female physician taught us a lesson about determination.
By Adriel D. Chilson
Up Up Up From Sod House Frontier, #3 in “God Had a Woman” series.
Signs of the Times, Australasian, March, 1978