Last week I had the opportunity to play the role of Dr. Flora Aldrich, Anoka’s remarkable medical practitioner. She practiced in the area from 1887 until her death in 1921.
Flora arrived in Anoka in 1884 as the 21-year-old bride of 28-year-old Dr. Alanson Aldrich. Although she was from a privileged and proper Massachusetts family, Flora had ambitions for herself that were outside the traditional role of women at the time. She wanted to work alongside her husband in his medical practice, as his equal in a partnership of service to the community. Alanson not only allowed it, but encouraged her to achieve a medical education at the University of Minnesota, where she graduated in 1887.
The mores of the time made women uncomfortable with male doctors, especially if any disrobing or touching was involved. Flora was a most welcome alternative and soon was highly respected for her compassion and for her skills. She immediately became very successful in treating the women and children of Anoka.
It was also a time when few people went to college, and even fewer of those were women. Despite this fact, or perhaps because of it, education was greatly prized, and those who had one were highly regarded. It is likely that Flora was the most educated woman in Anoka, at least initially. She used her influence, along with that of 15 other “women of distinction” in 1890 to establish the Philolectian Society. (“Philolectian” is Latin for “Lovers of Learning.”) Their goal was to promote learning, culture and refinement in their community. To that end, they successfully built the first library in Anoka in 1894, predating the Carnegie library, which opened in 1904.
The library probably held a few copies of Flora’s books. She wrote “The Boudoir Companion” to educate women about their own health and hygiene. Two years later, her second book, “My Child and I,” gave practical child raising advice. The doctors never did have any children of their own, but that did not prevent her books or her advice from being respected.
The doctors saw Anoka change from a rugged frontier lumbering town into a proper city. In 1904, they built a beautiful 17-room mansion on Third Avenue, just a block south of Main Street, and named it Colonial Hall. It was to be their home and to house Flora’s medical practice. (Alanson had his office in Minneapolis, but he also treated some local patients.) They immediately began entertaining the upper crust of Anoka society.
I imagine that more than a few of those conservative high society types were put off by Flora’s other passion – women’s suffrage. She wrote articles and was quoted saying, “If it is true – and it is true – a woman’s moral leverage in the home is an all important one, then it is true that her moral leverage in the government be an all important one.” She lived to see women’s suffrage become law in 1919 and probably voted in the 1920 presidential election before her death in 1921.
Her life can best be summed up in her own words: “A women should be the one who finally takes her own place in the body social, her own place in nature, her own place in the progress of humanity.”