Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pioneer of Health Care: Sister Anna Gertrude Penner

By Kristine Schmucker, Curator

The women of Harvey County played a leading role in providing health care for the community.  Dr. Lucena Axtell was one example of a pioneer for Harvey County health care. Read her story here:

Another example was the establishment of a Harvey County Public Health Nurse by the Women's Auxiliary of the Bethel Deaconess Hospital, Newton. Sister Anna Gertrude Penner served as the first Public Health Nurse from 1916-1921.  In this role, Sister Gertrude joined a national movement started by Lillian Wald in New York  that sought to educate and care for the health of the community and especially the poor.
Sister Anna Gertrude Penner
Photo in Katie Funk Wiebe, Our Lamps Were Lit, p. 136
Born October 4, 1886 near Hillsboro, Ks, Anna Gertrude Penner was the second of fourteen children in the family  of Rev. Heinrich D. & Katherine Dalke Penner.  Education was important to her parents.  In addition to serving as a minister for the Hillsboro Mennonite Church, Rev. Penner taught at several schools in the area including an elementary in Lehigh, Ks, at Bethel College, North Newton from 1893-1897 and at the Hillsboro Preparatory School from 1897-1913.  No doubt he instilled this value in his children and encouraged their education.  As the second oldest, Anna would have also been called on to assist her mother with the younger siblings as she grew to adulthood.  Perhaps these influences led her to consider dedicating her life to educating and caring for the sick and infirm.

Anna Gertrude Penner graduated from the Bethel Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing in Newton, Ks in 1915.  Following her graduation, she took four months of additional classes in Chicago specializing in public health, paid for by the Women's Auxiliary of the Bethel Deaconess Hospital. Upon her return to Newton in 1916, she became Harvey County's first 'visiting nurse'.

On October 1, 1916, at the age of thirty, she was ordained as a Deaconess by her father Rev. Heinrich D. Penner. For the next fifty years Sister Gertrude served the Newton community in a variety of ways.  She served as the public health and school nurse until 1921 followed by service as a R.N. at Bethel Deaconess Hospital, Newton. She also taught future nurses and finally served as a receptionist at the Bethel Student Nurses Home.  Rev. Penner also remained a supporter of the Deaconesses at Bethel Deaconess Hospital, serving as a teacher and spiritual advisor. He also published several educational pamphlets for use in classes. 

As a Public Health Nurse, Sister Gertrude cared for the sick, but more importantly, she worked to educate households on preventative measures. She provided information and care to new mothers in their own homes.   In 1917, Sister Gertrude expanded her duties to include school nurse for the Newton schools.  To assist her, Sister Anuta Dirks joined her as public health nurse for the county.

According to Sister Gertrude the role of the public health nurse was more than just caring for the sick patient, they must "look for causes outside the patient and family, and see what role the community plays in the matter of health and disease. It is possible, you know, that neither the patient nor his family is to blame for having typoid fever or tuberculosis or even for being poor and ignorant."
(Sister Anna Gertrude Penner 1917 Speech quoted in Lana Myers, Newton Medical Center: Merging the Past with the Future. Newton Healthcare Corporation, Newton, Ks, 2006, p. 56).
At first, the Public Health Nurse was supported solely by the Women's Auxiliary of the Bethel Deaconess Hospital.  They provided the funds for Sister Gertrude to attend the additional classes in Chicago.  Although after her ordination, Sister Gertrude did not recieve any salary for her work, there were other expenses.* The Auxiliary requested that the Newton City Commission help pay for the support of the Public Nurse.  In 1918, the city contributed $150 to the program.  By 1920, a monthly allotment of $100 was allowed and the Newton Board of Education funded the school nurse position at $70 a month.
Due to a shortage in nurses in 1921, Sisters Gertrude and Anuta were needed at the Bethel Deaconess Hospital.  From that point the Women's Auxiliary arranged for non-Deaconess nurses to take over the position of Public Health Nurse in Harvey County.

Traveling Deaconess
Photo in Katie Funk Wiebe, Our Lamps Were Lit, p. 136 

*Note:  Deaconesses were not paid wages, rather all of their needs were met by the "motherhouse" and any wages received from other sources went to a common account at the sponsoring organization.  In Newton, the Bethel Deaconess Hospital provided the Deaconess with a home, full maintenance, monthly pocket allowance, an annual vacation allowance, opportunities to attend institutes, conventions, and take post graduate work with expenses paid.

"Sister Anna Gertrude Penner", Mennonite Weekly Review Obituary March 30, 1967, p. 12.
Deaconesses of the Bethel Deaconess Home & Hospital, "The Deaconess and Her Ministry", Mennonite Life January 1948, p. 30-37.

Krahn, Cornelius and Richard D. Thiessen. "Penner, Heinrich D. (1862-1933)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 22 March 2013.
Myers, Lana.  Newton Medical Center: Merging the Past with the Future. Newton Healthcare Corporation, Newton, Ks, 2006.
Writers' Program Kansas, Lamps on the Prairie: A History of Nursing in Kansas.
Wiebe, Katie Funk. Our Lamps Were Lit:  An Informal History of the Bethel Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing Mennonite Press Inc., Newton, KS, 1978.
For the latest on what is going on at the Museum & Archives check .

Thursday, March 21, 2013

"Ladies, The Meeting Will Please Come To Order"

by Jane Jones, Archivist
For this post we welcome guest blogger and HCHM Archivist, Jane Jones.

"Ladies, The Meeting Will Please Come To Order"

      This was a familiar exclamation all over Harvey County on club meeting day.  The term "club woman" was worn with distinction into the mid-20th century.  Were they elitist?---probably, but their members spent part of their time contributing to community projects---fundraising and volunteering for a playground in Newton's Military Park or a Library in Sedgwick (Athena Club).  Club women were often elected to Library Boards and the local Boards of Education.  Middle and upper-class women had the leisure time to devote to their club.  Labor-saving devices made house-work easier and some women had the means to hire help.
Sorosis 1913 on the way to Wichita from Newton with their husbands aboard the AVI
            The Women's Club Movement spread across the United States after the Civil War (1865) into many large cities and small communities.  Sorosis was the association that set the Women's Club Movement in motion.  The founder, Jane Cunningham Croly, believed that some women were interested in the thought and progress of the age and in what other women were thinking and doing.  A more direct reason was that she and other women journalists were kept from attending a reception for the author Charles Dickens in New York City.  It was a males-only affair.  Croly, an early standard-bearer of women's rights, was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1994.

      Croly also founded the General Federation of Women's Clubs in 1890.  From this, state and local federations were added.  Kansas was one of the first states to join the General Federation.  The Newton and Vicinity Federation of Clubs first met April 28, 1904.  Representatives from Ladies Reading Circle, Themian, Art Union, Junior Reading Circle, Girls of the Round Table and Aldines gathered in the Harvey County Court House to form a local organization.  By October, 1904 they were meeting in Carnegie Hall upstairs at the new Carnegie Library.  This space now houses the Archives at the Historical Museum.
      Most of the club women might have gone to college, but that was a rarity.  They studied lofty subjects at club meeting everything from Electricity to Shakespeare.  Clubs promoted self-education and philanthropy.  Daughters watching their mothers prepare for club day would be the first generation of college graduates.  The love of learning trickled down.

Themian Club 1930

            The "Bible" of the club woman was the Program Book.  It contained the year's programs.  There was a theme, usually chosen by the President.  A Literature Committee developed the programs with members assigned to topics.  The local Library and Librarian became important to the club members as they gathered study material to develop the assigned topics.  As a result, a close association developed.

Program Book
     A typical agenda for a meeting included ways to get women to discuss topics.  During the club year a member would be assigned a topic to briefly discuss during Roll Call.  Women were thought to be to be more emotional then rational.  So debates became a common feature in women's clubs.  On May 26, 1893: the date at the Ladies Reading Circle was "a discussion pro & con upon the liability of women to indulge in personalities while engaged in discussion."

Typical club agenda
      At first certain club members were assigned to criticize the good and bad points of a paper that had been presented by a member.  The Critic was playing the role of the college professor and it was believed in study club circles that this would help women learn to accept an analysis of their efforts.  This role was eventually dropped!
      The oldest continuously meeting women's club in the state of Kansas is Newton's Ladies Reading Circle.  Begun in 1880, it still meets monthly from October through May.  Other women's clubs that still meet are Junior Reading Circle, Sorosis, Hesston Women's Civic Club and Daughters of the American Revolution.

Ladies Reading Circle 1880

Ladies Reading Circle 2005

Sorosis 2011
      Did your mother, grandmother or even your great-grandmother attend a woman's club? My mother, Winifred Young, belonged to the Philo Study Club in Kansas City. It met from the 1920s until the 1970s.  I remember her preparing presentations for club day.  She formed life-long friendships as a result of belonging to Philo.

For more information on Ladies Reading Circle, Sorosis Club, the Athena Club and other organizations visit the Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives. For information on our collections visit

Thursday, March 14, 2013

"You held me by the hand and I felt so much better."

by Lana Wirt Myers 

Welcome to guest blogger Lana Myers.  Lana is the author of two books and currently is the office manager at HCHM.

During Women's History Month, Dr. Lucena Chase Axtell deserves to be remembered as a dynamic woman ahead of her time in what she accomplished as a wife, mother and physician. 
Dr. Lucena Chase Axtell

In 1874, nine-year-old Lucena May "Cena" Chase moved from Michigan to Kansas in a railroad freight car. After four years of attempting to farm land near Burrton during conditions of drought and a grasshopper invasion, her family moved to a home in Newton and took in boarders. One of the boarders was 22-year-old John Axtell, who was Cena's teacher during her first term at the Newton school.

When not teaching, Axtell studied medicine. A few years later, he also found time to court his former pupil Cena Chase and the two were married in 1882. Axtell eventually earned a medical degree from Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York and, together, husband and wife opened Newton's first hospital in the spring of 1887.

Axtell Hospital was just the fifth general (non-military) hospital in Kansas
and the first to be privately owned by a physician. It also is believed
to have offered the first school of nursing in the state.

The hospital building soon expanded to increase patient capacity and to add living quarters for the Axtell family, which now included two daughters, Lilian and Marguerite. After the family moved into its new home, Cena took over management of the hospital.

Three years later, the Axtells embarked upon a plan for Cena to assume an even larger role in the hospital by pursuing her own medical degree at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Kansas City. In addition to the demands of coursework during her first year of medical school, she also juggled the responsibilities of caring for her daughters who stayed in Kansas City with her.

In May 1897, Dr. Lucena Axtell graduated from medical school and returned to Newton where she resumed management of the hospital and also set up a private practice. The Axtells' third daughter, Mildred, was born in 1898 and, in 1902, just two years after their oldest daughter left for college, a fourth daughter, Marian, arrived.

Dr. Lucena Axtell and Dr. John Axtell with their daughters (left to right)
Marian Hanna, Lilian Grove, Marguerite Glover and Mildred Branine
Photo courtesy of Margie Knupp

After her death in 1951, Dr. Lucena Axtell was described in The Newton Kansan as "an angel of mercy, help and encouragement to hundreds of families, whose second and third generations hold her memory in reverence today." Her daughter Marian Axtell Hanna remembered:
Years after she stopped practicing . . . people would come up to her and say, "Oh, Dr. Lucena, surely you remember me. I was so sick and doctor thought that I would surely not live. But you came and stood beside me and held me by the hand and it made me feel so much better." That was the phrase that always was reiterated, "You held me by the hand and I felt so much better."
In 2005, Lucena Axtell was one of only four Kansans among 130 physicians nominated nationally to be recognized as a Local Legend, a program sponsored by the American Medical Women's Association to honor physicians who have demonstrated commitment and innovation in their fields of medicine. U.S. Representative Todd Tiahrt described her as:  "A woman far ahead of her time, she represents the ideal of what women physicians can do and accomplish."

For further reading about Lucena Axtell . . .
  • Myers, Lana W. Newton Medical Center: Merging the Past with the Future. Newton, Kans.: Mennonite Press, Inc., 2006 (available in HCHM's Carnegie Gift Shop and area bookstores).
  • Hanna, Marian Axtell. Interview by Ann Holt. Audiocassette and transcript, 30 June 1977. Newton Public Library.
  • Harvey County Historical Museum's Photo Archives


To learn more about the museum visit

Friday, March 8, 2013

Mustard Plaster and a Warm Iron: The Goerman Boarding House

by Kristine Schmucker, Curator
March has been designated as Women's History Month.  Although the stories of women can (and should) be told throughout the year, we will feature several stories about Harvey County women this month.  This post will focus on Augusta Goerman a woman who was willing to provide a home not only for her children, but also for strangers in her Newton boarding house.
One occupation that was open to women in the late 1890s was that of running a boarding house.  The story of one woman and her boarding house came to my attention through an object in the museum's collection - a silver ladle in a wooden box.


The the initials "AG" were inscribed on the ladle's handle. On the inside of the box a piece of paper was stuck with the date "1874".

When I looked up the number the only additional information was a brief note - "used in the Goerman House."  What was the story behind this object?

I discovered an Augusta Goerman listed in the 1903 city directory at 119 E. Broadway with the additional notation - boarding house. 
Newton City Directory, 1903
 According to her obituary, Augusta Goerman lived at 119 E. Broadway in Newton from the mid 1880s until her death in 1939. She was buried at the Hillside Cemetery in Wichita, Kansas, next to her ex-husband, Louis Goerman.  Based on her obituary and census records, the story of Augusta Goerman slowly came into focus.
Augusta was born in Germany on May 6, 1848, and at the age of 24 she immigrated to the United States. She married Louis Goerman in the mid 1870s. Perhaps, the ladle was a wedding gift. The marriage lasted for several years, but they divorced sometime before Louis Goerman's death in June 1884.    Augusta came to Newton in 1886 with her children Louis, Annie, Clara and Herbert. 

The 1900 census lists Augusta as 52 years old, "divorced, head of household", and the mother of four living children.  At that time, three of her children lived with her; Louis (22), Annie (20), and Herbert (11).  The census also lists seven men as "boarders". Later census' also list between one and six boarders - both men and women - living at Augusta Goerman's Boarding House.

Main & Broadway, Newton, 1919
Residence visible on east Broadway:
W.C. Handy (117) ; Mrs. Augusta Goerman (119) - indicated with red arrow.
HCHM Photo Archives
 Goerman House was ideally located within walking distance of Newton's Main Street and  business district.  Axtell Hospital and the Goerz Mill were also close by.  The location attracted many seeking a temporary home away from home to board with Mrs. Goerman.  Her obituary noted that she "operated a rooming and boarding house for 41 years.  Her Broadway residence had been the home of scores of Newton's professional men and women during that time."
Boarding houses provided an alternative to the hotel for travelers, especially for those that may need to stay in the area for longer.  Men working for the railroad frequently found themselves away from home and a boarding house provided a place to stay. Boarding was also a way for a family to make additional money. It was also an acceptable source of income for a widowed or divorced women.

Life in a boarding house provided comforts not readily available at a hotel as this article from June 1900 points out. 
"In a boarding house you can obtain a mustard plaster and a cupful of palatable gruel and a warm iron for taking out a spot of a velvet gown. They create  a home feeling which the hungry heart of the hotel dweller misses. . . . It is the conversation of the boarding house table that holds and thrills him and keeps his feelings young and homelike. . . . No one ever feels neglected in a boarding house."                                  ("Life in a Boarding House", Newton Kansan Evening Republican, 15 June 1900.)
No doubt the silver ladle was used to serve many  delicious dishes to hungry boarders and gives us a glimpse into one woman's life in Harvey County life a century ago.


****Note: Mustard Plaster is a home remedy for colds, wet cough, sinusitis and chest congestion. To learn how to make a mustard plaster visit the Natural Remedies Center at:

  • Newton City Directories, 1885-1940, HCHM Archives.
  • HCHM Photo Archives
  • Newton Kansan Evening Republican, 2 February 1939.
  • United States Census, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930.
  • "Life in a Boarding House", Newton Kansan Evening Republican, 15 June 1900.
  • Strasser, Susan, Never Done: History of American Housework. Henry Holt & Co., New York, 2000
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Friday, March 1, 2013

"One of the Best Things For the Town: Chauncey A. Seaman and the Sedgwick Nursery"

Researched by museum volunteer, Thomas Carrell
Written by Kristine Schmucker, Curator 

In connection with our new exhibit featuring the oldest town in Harvey County, we will be posting articles highlighting the people and business of Sedgwick throughout the year.

On what was surely a hot Kansas day in August 1887, twenty-five year old Chauncey A. Seaman arrived in Sedgwick, Kansas. Eighteen years after  Charles Schaefer established the first business in Sedgwick, the town was thriving. 

Chauncey A. Seaman
A Kansas native, Seaman was born in Linn County, Kansas, on March 24, 1862.  Seaman, no doubt, was looking for a place to establish himself and make a life. He soon became involved in a local business, the Sedgwick Nursery, owned and operated by Samuel B. Shirk.
Sedgwick Nursery, 490 E. 7th, Sedgwick
ca. 1910
Photo taken from Glenn Manning Barn
HCHM Photo Collection
Shirk had moved to Harvey County from Lancaster, PA in 1884 with his wife Barbara, one son, David, and two daughters, Medessa and Anna, and started a nursery  business near Sedgwick.  The Sedgwick Nursery was located at 490 E. 7th near Sedgwick and consisted of 200 acres.
In 1886, Barbara died; a few years later Shirk married for the second time to  a widow, Anna Musser.  
Grafting, 1898
Photo Courtesy Sedgwick Historical Museum
Soon after Chauncey A. Seaman arrived in Sedgwick, he began working for Shirk at the nursery.  On September 10, 1889, Seaman married Anna Shirk. 
In 1892,  Seaman bought Sedgwick Nursery from his father-in-law. For the next several years, Seaman operated the successful business.  At some point John P. Schermerhorn became a business partner in the nursery.  In May 1900, Seaman sold his part of the business to Schermerhorn. 
Sedgwick Nursery
HCHM Photo Collection
The Sedgwick Pantagraph noted the change of ownership with praise for what the business had meant to the community.
"The Sedgwick nursery company, which organized several years ago proved one of the best things for the town that ever located here, as it gave employment to a large force of m en, conducted a big mail business which benefitted the post office and printer, and was an institution which advertised the town far and wide."  (Sedgwick Pantagraph, 3 May 1900)
Schermerhorn continued to operate a nursery in Sedgwick until approximately 1910. Seaman continued to actively work in the Sedgwick community, serving as mayor 1899 - 1900 and 1909 - 1911.  During this time he was also the president of the Sedgwick State Bank from 1900 to 1940.   Seaman retired in 1940 due to ill health and passed away at Bethel Hospital, Newton, on November 13, 1947.

 Sedgwick Historical Museum Photograph Collection
 Sedgwick Pantagraph, 3 May 1900
Sedgwick Pantagraph 26 October 1911
Evening Kansan, 12 March 1935;
"Chauncey A. Seaman Obituary", ND, original in possession of Deborah Austin
Sedgwick Nursery
ca. 1910
HCHM Photo Collection