The story of the Braunwarth sisters is the tale of a truly remarkable family that once occupied retail space at 112 East Second Street in Muscatine, Iowa. Jacob Braunwarth came to America in 1849 from Germany, married Louisa Wagner, and opened a boot and shoe manufacturing and sales shop at 112 East Second Street in downtown Muscatine, Iowa.
Their daughter, J. Sarah, was the oldest of the seven children in this hardworking and industrious family. She had a dream of becoming a doctor, worked hard at Iowa State University, and became a physician and surgeon at a time in history when most women did not aspire to accomplishments outside of the home.
In 1890, women constituted about five percent of the total doctors in the United States. As the first female physician in Muscatine, and as one of the very few female physicians in Iowa, J. Sarah was presented with some difficulties. The medical profession changed greatly in the nineteenth century when the required educational preparation for medicine increased. The American Medical Association did not begin to admit women members until 1915. The acceptance of female physicians was therefore not complete either in the community or within the medical profession at large.
Articles were published which publicly vilified J. Sarah. Following one, which speculated about the impropriety of female physicians, the Toledo Medical Compendium stated that, “among these [females who become physicians] may be found a few who will follow science with masculine force, enthusiasm and success, but the majority must ever be unsexed, discontented, and unsuccessful anomalies, whose only hope for usefulness and happiness is in marriage and consequences.”
J. Sarah responded by stating that, “in all ages woman has been the real physician of the human race. But it is only lately that she has ‘caught on’ that a service to be appreciated must be paid for. Out of the unselfish purity of heart, she has ministered night and day to neighbors and relatives and never charged money for her services…. Today, all of that is changed. Our charges are the same as other men charge, and Mr. and Mrs. People, you can have your choice at the same price.”
J. Sarah was a model for her sisters. Emma followed her lead and earned a medical degree from the State University of Iowa while Anna obtained her medical degree from a Chicago medical school. Anna practiced medicine in Chicago until the age of 81 when she was hit by a bus and killed.
Dr. J Sarah began her medical practice in 1876 on the top floor of her father’s shoe store and was joined by her sister, Dr. Emma, in the medical office. Sister Alice was a pharmacist who practiced her profession next door. Jessie was a sister who decided to focus on education instead and became a teacher and principal of Lincoln School.
- Architectural and historical survey and evaluation of the downtown commercial district, Muscatine, Ia. McCarthy, Rebecca Lawin. Muscatine Historical Preservation Commission, 2005.
- The Express Companies, http://www.ironhorse129.com/rollingstock/dictionary/express_companies.html accessed April 9, 2007.
- Story Gathering Muscatine 2000, William Street Press, Decatur, Ill, 2000. P87.-http://www.census, gov/Press-Release/www/1999/cb99-238.html.
- Separate Spheres, Female World, Woman’s Place: The Rhetoric of Women’s History, Linda K. Kerber, Toward an Intellectual History of Women: Essays (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).
- Toledo Medical Compendium, Series of 1891, vol. 7, pp. 366-67.