An 'example for us' - Ellis Shipp was early Utah female physician
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The life of a female physician in pioneer-era Utah is "an example not only for her descendants and students but also for us," said Andrea Ventilla, the speaker at the Nov. 8 "Men and Women of Faith" lecture sponsored by the Church History Library.
Sister Ventilla, a doctoral student in education from Hungary who is currently living in Rexburg, Idaho, spoke at the Church Office Building and gave the ninth and final lecture in this year's series. Addressing the topic "Latter-day Saint Women's Education, 1875-1896," she focused her remarks almost entirely on Ellis Reynolds Shipp (1847-1939), quoting her journals and written reminiscences. Sister Shipp was a remarkable woman who left her Utah home to study at the Philadelphia Women's Medical College, qualifying herself to help meet the serious demand in Utah Territory for qualified medical doctors in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Ellis Reynolds was born in Iowa in 1847, the eldest child of parents who joined the Church soon after her birth, then immigrated to Utah and settled in Pleasant Grove.
"In spite of the poor conditions, Ellis was interested in everything," Sister Ventilla said. "She sought knowledge in every possible way."
Her mother died when she was 15, and she taught occasionally in elementary schools to help support the family.
Being acquainted with President Brigham Young led to her being invited to attend school at the Beehive House in Salt Lake City, where she came under the instruction of the famous educator Karl G. Maesar.
In May 1866, she married Milford Bard Shipp. He would eventually take three other wives under the principle of plural marriage then being practiced in the Church. It was difficult to support the large family, especially with Milford being called to serve on missions, and the wives did all they could to help. "For a time, Ellis went to teach in elementary school, but as she was the mother of two children, she was forced to take her little baby to the classroom and leave her other child in her sister wives' care," Sister Ventilla said.
"As time went on and she pondered about the meaning of life, she realized women should have other responsibilities apart from making and keeping a home," she said. This idea was verified in a speech by President Young, who said, "We believe that women are useful, not only to sweep houses, wash dishes, make beds and raise babies, but that they should stand behind the counter, study law or physics, or become good bookkeepers ... and all this to enlarge their sphere of usefulness for the benefit of society at large."
Developing an interest in medicine from physicians who visited the territory, she in 1875 attended the Women's Medical College of Philadelphia.
It was a lonely time, and she longed to be with her loved ones. But she excelled and graduated from the college.
She was set apart in 1878 by President George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency to practice medicine among the Saints. The family moved next door to her office on Main Street in Salt Lake City, and she relied heavily on her children for support.
Sister Shipp went on to establish the school of Nursing and Obstetrics in 1879. Over the coming decades she helped to educate many Latter-day Saint women in the field of health care.
Near the end of her life, she wrote: "Reverently unto God I give my gratitude for the successful practice of medicine for the span of more than 50 years. For more than 6,000 times have I felt the exquisite bliss of seeing the mother's smile when for the first time she clasped her treasure in her arms."