Historical Heavyweights: The South’s first female doctor
Plus: Top news of the week — Water main break causes pandemonium — CMS enrollment drop centered on south Charlotte — Covid vaccines for kids coming soon — Cooper visits Ballantyne daycare
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Dr. Annie Alexander shattered stereotypes and championed the health of women and children; wartime surgeon, real estate side gig
Editor’s note: You see their names on street signs or parks, but who were some of the big-name people from decades ago who shaped Charlotte? They have fascinating stories, and on Saturdays in October, we’re sharing them with you.
By John Short
It’s difficult to fully appreciate how hard it was for a woman to become a licensed physician in the 19th century. And even if a woman were to battle against gender norms of the time and find a school that would teach her, she was signing up for a lifetime of overcoming bias to convince potential patients to be seen by a woman.
One woman who faced down all of these challenges was Annie Alexander, a Charlottean who was the first licensed female physician in the South.
Annie was born in Cornelius in 1864. The Alexander family traced its lineage to the first Scots-Irish settlers of the greater Charlotte area and were well-established in Mecklenburg County. Annie’s father, John Brevard Alexander, was a well known physician. You know you’re from Charlotte when your dad’s middle and last names are streets in uptown.
Dr. Alexander was, shall we say, highly influential in pushing Annie toward medicine at a young age. A female patient of Dr. Alexander’s had died after refusing to be examined by a man out of embarrassment. This experience led Alexander to decide that to prevent this type of thing from occurring, he must train a woman to practice medicine, and that specifically, that woman should be his daughter, Annie. (No pressure, Annie.)
Dr. Alexander set to work on his plan for Annie’s predestination, and when she was 15, he hired a tutor to oversee her studies and prepare her for medical school. Elizabeth Blackwell of New York had blazed the trail for women attending medical school in 1849, but this was still a rare and ambitious goal in the Carolinas in the 1870s.
Ultimately, the extreme helicopter parenting worked, and Annie moved to Philadelphia in 1882 at the age of 17 to study medicine at the Women’s Medical College. Despite the name, Annie and her classmates would endure harassment by male students at the neighboring medical school, who viewed their coeducational counterparts as unladylike and even perverse for pursuing such a career. Annie persisted and graduated in 1884 after studying obstetrics and writing her thesis on “The Vascular Mechanism”:
Annie was well aware of the challenges of opening a medical practice in the South. She decided to stay up North after graduation, where she hoped a more “liberal” attitude toward female doctors would allow her to gain some experience. Annie moved to Baltimore, where she started her own private practice and interned at the Baltimore Children’s Hospital while teaching anatomy at the Woman’s Medical College of Baltimore.
After contracting and recovering from tuberculosis, Annie returned home to Charlotte in 1886 and ultimately established her practice at 410 N. Tryon St. (just across 7th Street from where Duckworth’s is today). It was from this house that she would become “Dr. Annie,” known for visiting her patients in their homes via horse and buggy. The building would serve as her office and her home, and patients would sometimes stay in the home as they recovered. Dr. Annie would later own a number of rental properties in the area, at one time owning 20 rentals. Not a bad side hustle.
But becoming Dr. Annie, beloved doctor and real estate mogul, didn’t happen overnight. Building that base of patients took time, and Annie said that it took her a year of practicing medicine before earning her first $2 as a doctor.
Annie’s contributions to the Mecklenburg medical community weren’t limited to her patients. She would serve at Presbyterian and St. Peter’s Hospital and was a charter member of the Mecklenburg County Medical Society at its formation in 1903, later becoming president of the organization. From this role, Dr. Annie was a champion of public health before it was a term, leading education campaigns against conditions that lead to diseases such as hookworm, an infection-causing intestinal parasite.
As you might imagine, Dr. Annie used her respect in the community and positions of influence to become a prominent champion for women’s health in the region, serving as a trustee for the Crittendon Home for unwed girls and their babies in the city. Dr. Annie would later serve on the board of the Charlotte YWCA and oversaw the physical education department. Basically, if it kept the citizens of Charlotte healthy around the turn of the century, particularly women and children, then you could assume that Dr. Annie was involved.
Still not enough for you? Fine. Dr. Annie was appointed as acting assistant surgeon at Camp Greene when it was established to support the World War I effort in 1917 and was the attending physician at the YWCA and the Presbyterian College for Women, which became Queens University of Charlotte.
In 1929, Dr. Annie contracted pneumonia from a patient and ultimately died in her home. She is buried in Elmwood Cemetery. In December 2016, Dr. Alexander’s contributions were commemorated with the installation of a state historical marker in her honor at 400 N. Tryon St., steps from where her medical practice served the community for more than three decades.
Other mini-biographies from our “Historical Heavyweights” series:
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This week in Charlotte: Vote on N.C. redistricting maps coming soon; big Charlotte water main break; Covid vaccines for kids roll out next month; ‘tis the season for ‘urban’ coyotes
On Saturdays, The Ledger sifts through the local news of the week and links to the top articles — even if they appeared somewhere else. We’ll help you get caught up. That’s what Saturdays are for.
South Charlotte CMS enrollment plunge: (Ledger 🔒) A Ledger analysis of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools enrollment data shows that south Charlotte elementary schools had some of the biggest drops in the county this year, which is one of the main reasons why the district has fewer students than projected. Of the 18 CMS schools with enrollment that fell by 20% or more in the last two years, 10 are in south Charlotte. Boundary changes and the opening of a new school account for some of the drops, but not all. Many families pulled their kids from neighborhood schools and put them in private, magnet or charter schools or opted to homeschool.
‘Staggering’ number of teachers leaving (WFAE): Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leaders say they’ve processed more than 500 teacher resignations and retirements this school year, a number they call “staggering.” The district lacks enough substitute teachers, so teachers are having to give up their planning periods to cover for classes without teachers, or are having to teach bigger classes when classes with no teacher are broken up and students are “dispersed” into different classrooms.
Court ruling on race in admissions: (AP via WFAE) A federal judge ruled Monday that UNC Chapel Hill can continue to consider race as a factor in its undergraduate admissions. A conservative group had argued that affirmative action disadvantages white and Asian students, but a U.S. District Judge ruled that the university has shown it has a compelling reason to pursue a diverse student body and that it sees measurable benefits from that goal.
Redistricting proposals: (AP via WFAE) North Carolina’s Senate Redistricting Committee has come up with proposed maps for new congressional or state Senate district lines. Several of the proposals have been posted online, and House and Senate committees will hold hearings for public comment on them next week.
Cooper visits Charlotte daycare: (WBTV) Gov. Roy Cooper and state health secretary Mandy Cohen visited a Ballantyne daycare center Thursday following a $805M investment in stabilization grants for early childcare and learning programs.
Water main break: (WBTV) A large water main break off Remount Road on Monday evening disrupted city water service for much of Mecklenburg County, leading to a boil-water advisory for 48 hours. Water service has returned to normal and city officials said water-quality tests have shown that tap water is safe to drink.
Covid vaccines for kids: Mecklenburg County is expected to receive 13,500 doses of the Pfizer Covid vaccine for children ages 5-11. Approval for vaccinating young children is expected in early November. (WFAE)
Birkdale “evolution”: (Biz Journal) Improvements are planned for the 52-acre Birkdale Village shopping center in Huntersville, which will include upscale outdoor lounge areas, a full-service concierge and a valet as well as new retail and dining options.
Charlotte Pipe rezoning concerns: (Observer) Some City Council members voiced concern about the planned rezoning of Charlotte Pipe & Foundry’s 55-acre site on West Morehead Street, which has been speculated to be the future home of a stadium for the Carolina Panthers. The proposed zoning designation, UMUD, would allow a wide range of uses, and some council members said they were uncomfortable committing to that without more specifics. A vote on the rezoning could be held as early as next month.
Flight attendants authorize strike: (Observer) Flight attendants for Piedmont Airlines, a regional carrier of American Airlines, voted Thursday to authorize a strike, as contract negotiations failed to produce an agreement on pay raises and better working conditions. About 130 of Piedmont’s flight attendants are based in Charlotte. Labor disputes are usually resolved before an actual strike.
Hornets home opener: (Fox Sports) The Charlotte Hornets played a heart-racing home opener Wednesday, beating the Indiana Pacers 123-122. Second-year point guard LaMelo Ball had 31 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
Home-team advantage at risk? (Axios Charlotte) This season’s first two Panthers home games have seen lots of fans of the opposing teams taking up seats in Bank of America Stadium, so Axios Charlotte breaks it down — is it OK to sell your season tickets to opposing fans? (Short answer: depending on how you sell them, you can’t always control who buys them. And the fact that there are lots of fans cheering on the other team isn’t to blame for Panthers’ losses.)
UNC Charlotte enters the AAC conference: (Observer) The Charlotte 49ers have left Conference USA and has been accepted to the American Athletic Conference along with Alabama-Birmingham, Rice, Texas-San Antonio, North Texas and Florida Atlantic. The earliest that the six schools can play in the AAC would be the 2023-24 season.
From Mayberry to Mount Airy: (N.C. Rabbit Hole) Betty Lynn, the actress who played Barney Fife’s girlfriend on “The Andy Griffith Show,” died this week, and writer Jeremy Markovich unpacks the fascinating story of Lynn’s 2007 move to Mount Airy, and her life in the town that she helped fictionalize on TV.
Q&A with ‘The Vote Collectors’ authors: (Charlotte magazine) Charlotte journalists Michael Graff and Nick Ochsner have a book coming out next month about the elections scandal of 2018 in Bladen County, North Carolina’s 9th Congressional district. The two sat down with Charlotte magazine editor Greg Lacour to talk about reporting the book through the historical lens of power and race, their own histories with Eastern North Carolina and what they want readers to take away.
From the Ledger family of newsletters
Construction sector till reeling: (Monday) Charlotte is still seeing a huge demand for new commercial and residential construction, but the construction industry is still plagued by supply chain woes, price increases and labor shortages that are hampering the ability to keep up.
New felony charge for Tim Newman: (Wednesday 🔒) Former uptown power broker Tim Newman is accused of committing a new, incredibly disgusting offense as he sits in Georgetown County Detention Center after threatening to blow up a dam. (Seriously, it’s gross.)
School police officer remembered: (Ways of Life 🔒) Officer Julio Herrera was a much-loved fixture at Ardrey Kell High School, where he worked as a school resource officer and had a special heart for students with special needs. “Even with the naughtiest kid, he was patient. He counseled them. He was patient. He never raised his voice,” said Principal Jamie Brooks.
More coyote sightings: (Monday) If you’ve spotted coyotes wandering around your neighborhood, that’s because October is one of the peak months for coyote sightings in populated areas. This is the time of year when juvenile coyotes leave their parents and go out in search of their own territory. We tell you what to do if you see one, and how to protect your small pets.
N.C. liquor shortage (Friday 🔒) Mecklenburg County’s five-member ABC Board heard from staff this week about what they’re doing to address a serious liquor supply problem at the county’s 28 ABC stores.
Should we bring back traffic cameras? (Transit Time) As traffic deaths in Charlotte rise, some say the city should bring back speed cameras and red light cameras to try to curb the problem. We break down how the city’s previous camera programs worked, why they ended it, and why bringing them back is a complicated issue.
Flyover Friday returns: (Friday) Back by popular demand, it’s season 2 of Flyover Friday, where we show you the growth and development of parts of Charlotte as you’ve never seen them before — from above. This week, we explored the redevelopment of FreeMoreWest, a mash-up of Freedom Drive, Morehead Street and west Charlotte. The Ledger presents Flyover Friday in partnership with The 5 and 2 Project.
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