Butin, Mary Ryerson

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Mary Ryerson Butin, physician, born on a farm near Wilton, Iowa, 17th August, 1857. She battled and conquered much of the prejudice against women in medical science.

Mary E. Ryerson Butin M.D.

The qualities most dominant in my nature and vigorously manifest early in life, were a repudiation of the false in friends or material things and a demand for the true in both, which has been largely realized; a confidence and trustful belief in people, not altogether to be regretted, but which experience has modified; a spirit to seek other than well beaten paths in pursuance of an object: a love for the beautiful and artistic, common to most women; impatience of physical restraint in conventional dress, though never approving hoydenish or mannish ways; a keen sense of humorous and an exuberance of spirit, common to other members of my family, but from the seriousness of my nature, little exercised; virtues were inculcated in early life “line upon line” and “precept upon precept” and thoroughly en-grafted.

I have not accomplished all that I would like to have done or as much as I had planned to do, but hope there has been some resultant good to others and an advanced objective for women. Between its narrow
confines, the stream of my life has run deep and swift; from its placid smiling surface, none might guess how deep the waters, how strong the current or how dangerous the rapids have been. My joys have been heightened and sorrows mitigated as I have striven to aid others and all life in consequence has taken on a greater depth of meaning. I am convinced that no woman ever studies medicine or pursues the practice of it, but who is called to higher purposes.

There has never been a moment in my life that I have regretted the decision made so early in life, or a time when I have not felt devoutly thankful for my knowledge of medicine.

Tis many a mile, many a smile and many a sadness too, since as a happy carefree child I grew to young
womanhood and in the words of that old song, I can say, “Now as grave and reverend Seniors, look we
der the verdent past.”

I was born on a farm in Iowa, my parents having come there in the late fifties from New Jersey. I had
three brothers, who, together with myself, were the objects of much careful bringing up, and as the only
girl, I suspect I may have developed an age.

My father was instrumental in establishing a school close to our home and memories of school on long
benches, fireside studies in winter and friends then made, linger with poetic and sentimental halo. One
of my teachers later said that he had seldom seen no joyous a nature.

My mother, practical and sensible, was often called to help the neighbors in times of illness and
realized the usefulness of a trained and educated woman and early in my life taught me to say when I
grew up I was going to be a doctor. It was a strange freak of fate which would make one choose a
career in which there was so little to provoke levity or occasion calling for it.

When we were nearly grown, my people moved to Wilton that we might have the advantage of better
schooling, where I entered the high school and graduated at the head of the class. Later I attended a
sectarian school, in which my two older brothers had proceeded me, which would now be known as a
Liberal Arts Institution and in which I acquired much of the moral trend which has characterized my
life. After two and a half years there, I sought and obtained a teacher’s certificate. Having taught school
two terms, I was offered a position in the high school from which I had graduated, but after a
conference with my mother, who encouraged me, I decided to take up the study of medicine. When I
made my decision known, my schoolmates were agast, that I, who had always seemed so different,
should take so decisive a step or be of so determined a character. To study and practice medicine was to
them a matter of amazement.

About this time there came to our town, to lecture, a noted woman physician, Dr Anna Longshore
Potts, of a prominent family in Philadelphia. I attended her lectures with my mother, resolved to meet
her ideals, and she no doubt influenced my later life, and at no time in after life did I realize the the
gravity of my professional career, or the responsibilities of every physician.

There were two other doctors in the office of our family physician, all of whom gave me much
encouragement in taking up the study of medicine and in preperation I commenced the study of
Anatomy, Physiology and Materia Medica, reciting daily. For my first term I entered the Medical
Department of the State University of Iowa City, a coeducational institution, with one hundred
students, ninety men ten women. The studies were hard, attendance at all the lectures was obligatory,
and the professors spared us not, seemingly to test our endurance or to discourage us in the study. The
ordeal was especially trying for me as I was unaccustomed to hearing delicate subjects discussed before
both sexes. My mother visited me and I took her to all the classes, clinics and dissecting rooms, she
was enthusiastic, instead of being shocked and said she would have liked nothing better than to have
had my opportunities….

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