Anoka County History: Doctors take honeymoon trip of a lifetime

I wonder if Flora Southard and Alanson Aldrich had any inkling when they married in 1883 that their honeymoon trip to Anoka, Minnesota would last 33 years. Although Flora was of an average age when at 20 she married the 28-year-old doctor, there was nothing average about her. She was born in Westford, Otsego County, New York in 1863 to S. Wesley Southard, a businessman and “gentleman of the old school.” Her mother, Amanda, was the daughter of Isaac Sutherland, a “gentleman of wealth,” who was a great believer in education for girls. The three generations, Flora and her brother, her parents, and grandparents all made their home at “Sutherland Place,” a favorite visiting place for the educated and distinguished of the times.

In this day and age we would say that Flora was home-schooled with her well-educated mother in charge. When Flora was 12, her mother died. Her education continued, however, at the best local academies under men and women who were specialists in each department. Indeed, at a time when most girls rarely went beyond an eighth grade education, Flora Southard was a well-educated young woman at the time of her marriage to Dr. Alanson George Aldrich, M.D. Upon her marriage, she took up the study of medicine under the tutelage of her doctor-husband.

Dr. Alanson Aldrich, the grandson of David Aldrich, a well-known (at the time) Quaker preacher, was born in 1857 to John Rexford, a day laborer, and Lois Aldrich in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. It’s probably due to his maternal grandfather’s stature that he took his mother’s surname, rather than that of his father. As was often the practice of his day, Alanson Aldrich began his study of medicine under the supervision of a practicing physician before going on to the University of Vermont Medical School and graduating from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Baltimore, Maryland.

Dr. Alanson Aldrich had been practicing medicine for three years before he married Miss Flora Southard. Friends had encouraged them to visit the Northwest (Minnesota) for their honeymoon. In Anoka they encountered the “simple life” they so desired and so they decided to relocate. Dr. Alanson established an eye, ear, nose, and throat practice in both Anoka and Minneapolis and Flora continued her medical studies with her husband; then was admitted to the Minnesota Collage Hospital. Within three years she had graduated from what is now the University of Minnesota Medical School. She followed this up with post graduate work in the New York City Hospital. Then, in 1996 Mr. and Mrs. Doctor left for a year of working and studying in the hospitals of Europe.

Upon their return Mrs. Doctor assisted her husband in his practice and established her own clientele as well. As a woman doctor, Flora’s services were gratefully received not only by Anoka women, but by women from the far-flung reaches of other “Northwestern localities.” She was a frequent contributor to medical journals and she published two books. Although Mrs. Doctor had no children of her own, one of her books was advice for mothers entitled, “My Child and I.”  The other was a book for women with a rather racy title, “A Boudoir Companion for Women.”

By 1904 the Doctors Aldrich had apparently decided they like their adopted city of Anoka well enough to become permanent residents and so they began to build their home on prestigious Third Avenue, a block off Main Street. It was meant to not only serve as their home, but to house their medical practices as well. The offices were on the north side of the main floor with a separate entrance for patients on that side of the house. Friends used the elegant front door where there is a knocker that bears the name of the house, Colonial Hall.

One of the 17 rooms of their elegant home was for Dr. Flora’s father, S.W. Southard, who, once a successful businessman out East had lost both his business and inheritance due to dishonest partners. The doctors had hoped that their companionship would help lift him out of his despair and depression. But that wasn’t to be. On one fine day in May, 1906, he managed to kill himself with a shotgun inside Cutter’s barn which was adjacent to Colonial Hall.

Both Drs. Aldrich were advocates of the simple life and enthusiastic students of natural science. Colonial Hall brought Mr. Doctor closer to the pleasures he enjoyed. He kept a private kennel of the finest breeds of hunting dogs, all well trained. In addition to the pleasures of country life he enjoyed good cigars, was a 32 degree Mason and a Shriner, and was known politically as a “radical democrat and an independent thinker.” Among his friends he was known as a “royal good fellow at all times.”

Mrs. Doctor was well-respected, and a leader in her community in interests that went beyond medical. She firmly believed in social, political, and economic equality for women at a time when women had second class status. And, to promote learning, culture, and refinement in her community, she, along with 15 other like-minded “women of distinction” established the Philolectian (lovers of learning) Society of Anoka in 1890 which meets still today.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Doctor died at a relatively young age. Legend gives Mr. Doctor a rather heroic death. With an office in Minneapolis he commuted by trolley. On one subzero (-20 degrees) in February the trolley was overcrowded so he gallantly gave up his seat to a young woman with a baby and walked the mile to his home where he arrived chilled to the bone and exhausted. In his weakened condition he became ill with pneumonia that aggravated a heart condition and within 10 days, February 19, 1916, he died at the age of 59. His funeral was held in Colonial Hall and conducted by the Scottish Rite Masons with hundreds of mourners standing on the lawn outside.

Mrs. Doctor remained active in her organizations and continued seeing patients. Five years after her husband’s death, she found herself becoming more and more tired, but nobody thought it a serious matter until, due to heart failure, she died in her bed at Colonial Hall on the morning of March 19, 1921 at the age of 58. Her brother, Lyman, came from the East to take care of her affairs. He sold Colonial Hall to the Masons and the furnishings to Eastern Star. The Masons built their Lodge Hall and attached it to Colonial Hall. Caretakers for the property lived in Colonial Hall and took care of both buildings and the grounds. In 1971 an agreement between the Lodge and the Anoka County Historical Society allowed for Colonial Hall to be turned into a museum. For the next 30 years this building housed the collections and offices of ACHS. In 2004 it was leased by the Artique and turned into an antique shop. In 2014 the name was changed to The Big White House.

If you would like more information about the Doctors Aldrich, the Anoka County Historical Society has published a 27 page booklet, “Third Avenue Elegance: Colonial Hall & the Doctors Aldrich” that is for sale at the history center.

June Anderson is a volunteer member of the Anoka County Historical Society. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact her thru ACHS or by e-mail: [email protected].

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