The Maiden Aunt – Anna Preston, M.D. General Practitioner

This particular maiden aunt is one of my favorite people, even though I never knew her and I am not directly descended from her! Anna Louise Preston was the younger sister of my 3rd great grandfather, Charles Preston. She was an interesting character, very progressive in some ways, yet still very conservative in others.

Early Years and Family

Anna is on the left, her older sister Nora is on the right.

Anna Louise Preston was born on 8 October 1862 in Beverly, Ohio, the youngest of 9 children born to Washington Preston and his wife, Rachel Ann (Jordan) Preston. Washington seemed to be a man of many talents. He was a farmer and pattern maker. A pattern maker was a specialized form of carpentry. Most of his career he spent working for the W. F. Robertson Company, which later became the Marietta Manufacturing Company. Anna first appears on a census record in 1870 in Beverly, Washington County, Ohio with her parents and older siblings George (23), Charles (21), Henrietta (19), Curtis (17), Frank (14), Marion (12), and Nora (10). She was attending a private school in Beverly at the time and was 7 years old.

In 1880, the family was still living in Beverly at a house on Third Street. The majority of the Preston siblings were still living at home, including the unmarried oldest daughter, Henrietta (29), who was working as a “tailores,” unmarried Nora (20), and unmarried Anna (17). Anna was still attending the private school and was the only child still in school. The next year, the W. F. Robertson Company relocated to Marietta, Ohio, a town about 16 miles away on the Ohio River. Washington, Rachel, Nora, and Anna moved to follow the company. There, she attended and graduated from Marietta High School.

Department of Medicine and Surgery

Between 1881 and 1892, I am unsure what she was doing. At some point, possibly during those years, Anna became interested in studying medicine. At the age of 30, she applied to and was accepted to the Department of Medicine and Surgery at the University of Michigan. Anna was a diligent student, and four years later, she graduated and officially became Dr. Anna Louise Preston, M.D. Her graduating class was mostly male, but including Anna, there were 13 women who also graduated. Her beautiful graduation photo is below. I really love this photo because not only does she really resembles her mother Rachel (my 4th great grandmother), her niece, Jessie (my 2nd great grandmother), but also me!

The town of Marietta and Anna’s family were all very proud of her. The following article was placed in the paper when she came home from the University of Michigan:

Anna set up her medical practice immediately in Marietta. In February 1897, the Marietta Daily Leader reported that Dr. Anna Preston was treating one of her brothers while he was ill with grip. On 9 December 1900, Anna placed her first business advertisement in the paper. She was a general practitioner who specialized in women’s health and performed small surgeries. She shared an office space with Dr. Hart and Dr. McClure.

Career and Later Life

In 1900, Anna was still living at 211 Franklin Street in Marietta with her parents and unmarried sister, Nora. She continued to live in this house until she died, and she and her sister Nora likely inherited it from her parents upon their deaths. Each year, Anna appeared in the Marietta City Directory as a local physician. In 1921, Anna returned to the University of Michigan to attend a class reunion. She took a picture with some of her classmates, which was printed in the Michigan Alumnus No. 27.

One of the most interesting resources that I have found for Anna is her entry in the Woman’s Who’s Who in America in 1914. This was so impressive that she was chosen as one of the most successful women in America. It contains her educational history as well as her interests outside of medicine. I was completely shocked to find out that Anna was the president of the Marietta Auxiliary Opposed to Woman Suffrage. I couldn’t believe what I was reading! I absolutely assumed that she would have been pro suffrage as she was very independent, never married, was very educated, and had her own medical practice. This was still several years before women received the vote, so I suppose it is possible that she changed her mind by then. But I suppose I will likely never know! She was also an active member of the Ladies of the Maccabees, the auxiliary of the Knights of the Maccabees, a fraternal organization. She also loved gardening, something that she shared with her brother Charles.

She was always very dedicated to her family. Besides caring for female patients in Marietta, Anna was also many of family members’ personal physician. She took care of her siblings and parents when they were ill, and she signed off as the attending physician on her mother Rachel’s and brother George’s death certificates. Anna also kept in touch with her nieces Jessie and Bertha Preston who lived in Nashville. The girls traveled to Marietta to visit their father’s family fairly regularly, and Anna and Jessie exchanged letters over the years.

Anna practiced medicine in Marietta for close to forty years, but by the 1940 census, Anna had retired. She and her sister Nora were living in peaceful retirement in their house on Franklin Street. Sadly, Anna watched as her parents, brothers, and sisters died before her. On 20 September 1944, Anna’s older sister, Nora, died. I do not know for certain, but I assume that they must have been very close. They had lived together their entire lives, except when Anna was living in Ann Arbor attending medical school, and it must have been very difficult for Anna to lose her.

On 29 August 1950, Anna died at the Washington County Infirmary at the age of 87. She was buried two days later at the Oak Grove Cemetery in Marietta, sharing a headstone with her sister Nora.

I never found out why she never married (or why Nora didn’t marry, either). Was she not interested in any of the men she knew? Was there a tragedy that prevented a marriage? Did she just enjoy her independence and want a career? I wish I knew! I am very proud of this maiden aunt, and her story reinforces how inspiring and complex female ancestors can be!

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