Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Paulina Wunsch Supported Women's Health in Greenfield in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century

Paulina Wunsch reached out to me through the words of old newspaper articles and census records, and her story seems timely today. I hope to learn more about her through additional documents that may be available. There are no descendants to memorialize her, so here I go again.

As early as 1858, Paulina Pohl Wunsch advertised her services as a midwife in the Greenfield newspapers. She had arrived in New York from Poznan in the German partition of Poland in 1852 with her two-year-old daughter, Wanda. They followed her husband, William, who had come a year before to establish himself and pave the way for them. He was a "cutter" and found employment in the John Russell Cutlery Factory in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Both William and Paulina brought skills with them to their new home. She may have received her training from the predecessor of the Poznan University of Medical Sciences, which was certifying midwives in the nineteenth century.

She and Wanda became citizens of the United States by proxy when William was sworn in at the Franklin County Superior Court in March of 1860.

Paulina was listed in the Massachusetts Directory of Physicians in Greenfield in 1867, without further annotation.

They moved up from "Cheapside" to Greenfield's Main Street when they bought a home there in 1867. William opened a hat and specialty shop in the bustling Mansion House block across the street, assisted by his daughter. In the 1870 census all three are listed with occupations.

Life was not all bliss in the Wunsch household. A newspaper article in 1880 vaguely refers to "domestic troubles, which forced her husband to leave for parts unknown." In 1879 William transferred his business and real estate to his daughter, Wanda, who had married in 1873 He left town about that time, and was living in Pittsburgh, PA at his death in 1913.

Paulina was involved in a court case in 1880, charged with malpractice for performing an abortion. She was arrested on January 21,and released on $2000 bond. The October trial is cited in Volume 29 of the "Massachusetts Reports" of the Supreme Judicial Court. Testimony reveals that young Josie McGuire became "acquainted" with Thomas Burnham while she was working in Gill. He was charged with adultery when they became "criminally intimate."  A 40-year-old Thomas Burnham is found in the 1880 census of Montague.  His occupation is given as "huckster" -- the stereotypical traveling salesman.

According to her testimony, Josie came to the Wunsch home with a friend in October of 1878 and told Paulina that she was "in trouble," requesting help.  On the first visit she was given medicine.  Approximately a week later, she returned for an "operation" and described instruments used.  She paid $15 for the procedure, with $35 to be paid later.  Mrs. Wunsch later visited her in Gill and repeated the operation.  Josie was ill in the following days and another doctor was called.  It appears that her failure to pay the second doctor led him to expose her condition.  Ultimately, Paulina was charged a $250 fine.  Josie was jailed for perjury.

Paulina continued to live with her daughter and helped to raise her grandson, as Wanda ran a successful millinery business with her husband, Henry Miller, who was also a butcher.  She was consistently referred to as a "physician" in directories.  When she suffered a broken hip in December of 1897, the newspaper describes her as "the well known physician who has practiced in Greenfield for many years." She slipped while returning from a house call, walking "under the Clay Hill arch" now the Bank Row railroad underpass. She was 70 when she died of Bright's disease (kidney disease) on 23 November 1899. She was buried in Green River Cemetery in Greenfield. How many babies did she deliver in nearly 50 years in town?  How many women's troubles did she relieve?

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