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Edith Michael Buyer's story in Changing the Face of Medicine

from the Changing the Face of Medicine exhibit at the National Library of Medicine

Celebrating America's Women Physicians
Dr. Ethel D. AllenDr. Faith Thayer FitzgeraldDr. Margaret D. CraighillDr. Jane F. DesforgesDr. Virginia Davis FloydDr. Ethel WeinbergDr. Ida Sophia ScudderDr. Yvonnecris VealDr. Mary Modelle NewmanDr. Justina Laurena Carter FordDr. Marie E. ZakrzewskaDr. Jennifer R. NiebylDr. Margaret Morgan LawrenceDr. Susan La Flesche Picotte
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Susan and Edward Buyer
Edith Michael Buyer
Europe and U.S.
From Susan (granddaughter): 

My grandmother, Edith Selma Michael Buyer, received the M.D. degree from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1918. She was a classmate of Ethel Collins Dunham and Martha May Eliot, who are featured in the exhibit. 

Edith was born in New York City in 1894, the eldest of three daughters. Her father, Bernard Michael, son of a tailor from Prussia, owned a printing business that produced programs for the Metropolitan Opera. She was educated in New York and Leonia, NJ, schools, until the death of her father in 1906. After her father's death, her mother Annie Hamerschlag Michael took the three girls to Europe for what turned out to be an eight year stay. They lived near Hamerschlag relatives in Vienna for five years, where Edith attended the Real Gymnasium Fliegelmann. 

Great-grandmother Annie ("Oma"), daughter of liberal Jews from Bohemia and a radical for her time, encouraged her daughters to pursue education and careers, and to explore religious choices. Edith was most interested in the sciences, declared herself an agnostic, and later became active in the Ethical Culture movement. In addition to her regular curriculum, Edith studied fencing and singing. 

In 1911, they moved to Lausanne where Edith received her A.B. degree at the University of Lausanne, and then on to Paris in 1913 so that Edith could pursue pre-medical studies (Etudes Chemie, Physique et Naturelle ) at the Sorbonne, while her sister Alice studied art. Edith went mountain climbing in Switzerland and nearly lost her life dangling from a rope. She continued with singing lessons although no one really could say that she had a good voice. Since she was considered very beautiful, she had many beaux, and her youngest sister Dorothea remembered many years later that two young men had fought a duel over her favors. 
In the summer of 1914, perhaps realizing that her daughters knew very little of their American home and family, and perhaps anticipating the onset of war, Oma suddenly packed the three young women up and sailed for Boston aboard the S.S. America. 

Edith entered Johns Hopkins School of Medicine that fall, where she studied surgery with Dr. William Halsted and psychiatry with Dr. Adolf Meyer. Oma and the two younger sisters spent the first year in Baltimore, where, according to sister Dorothea, Edith was very busy often experimenting with animals, slide, skeletons, etc. in her room. After the first year, as Edith was quite settled and independent in Baltimore, the rest of the family moved on to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and later to New York. 

After graduation in 1918, Edith interned at the Boston Psychopathic Clinic and the Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic at Johns Hopkins. She worked during the summer of 1918 as a Research Assistant for the U.S. Children's Bureau, and in 1919-1920 as a Resident Physician at Butler Hospital in Providence, R.I. She also worked for the National Committee on Mental Hygiene in Baltimore on their survey of the mental health of children in Maryland public schools. She was licensed to practice medicine in Maryland and New York in 1920. 

In 1920, Edith married Samuel Buyer, a friend of her Uncle Royal, in New York, and had three children between 1921 and 1924. She was back at work by 1927 as the Medical Supervisor of the New Rochelle, NY, public school system, a position she held until her death in 1960. 

In the 1930s, Edith held an assistantship at Columbia University, was a member of the psychiatric staff at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center and New Rochelle Hospital, and appeared on the radio discussing "Guiding the School Child." 

In 1944, Edith requested leave from the New Rochelle school system to be commissioned as a Lieutenant Commander, Medical Corps, U.S. Naval Reserve, and was stationed at the WAVES Training School in the Bronx. A favorite photo in our family shows Edith in uniform between her two sons Ed and Roy, also in uniform, during World War II. 

She was a member the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, the American School Health Association, the New York State Medical Society, and Westchester Ethical Society. 

I was not quite eleven when my grandmother died, but I remember her as a forceful, energetic, determined person--a real whirlwind. Being taken sightseeing in New York by "Nana" was an exhausting experience, trying to keep up with my 60-something grandmother. 

From Ed: 

Mother had a brush with polio that left her with only minor foot damage. Her many visits to doctors in those early days piqued her interest in medicine that later brought her into the profession. When Dad's business collapsed in the depression that closely followed WWI she talked the school system of New Rochelle, N.Y., into hiring a medical supervisor and stayed in that position until retirement. She did the rounds of all of New Rochelle's public schools for many years, consulting her staff of nurses, examining children, counseling parents, rendering emergency treatment, and handling departmental administration. 

Dad died in October 1937, the year before her first child graduated from high school. We'll never know how she did it but she put all three of us through college between 1939 and 1946, providing funds, counsel, and a home during what must have been very lean years. With two sons in service during the World War II, she pitched in and served as a Lieutenant Commander with the WAVES. Seeing her standing on the dock to greet my returning troopship is a moment I've never forgotten. 

Linked toMichael, Edith Selma M.D.
AlbumsBios and Histories, Edith Michael Buyer, M.D.

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