MISS FRANCINA McMAHON
From, "History of Marshall County, 1984," Marshall County Historical Society; page 166.
Pioneer Health Nurse
Trained Under Dr. Harriet B. Jones, 1st Woman Physician in W. Va.
Written by Juanita McMahon Fahey, niece.
(Submitted by Naomi Lowe Hupp.)
From, "History of Marshall County, 1984," Marshall County Historical Society; page 166.
As it has been written time after time, Marshall County is the birthplace of a very talented woman respected and honored by all who knew and loved her, a woman of strong character, Francina McMahon.
Born March 17, 1884 on the Alexander farm in back of the Camp Ground, the youngest of four girls, older than her four brothers, the children of Rolla and Jane Coffield McMahon.
Her father was one of the best known and most highly esteemed citizens of the community. Her mother was the one the neighbors came to for help in sickness, death and childbirth. Francina started making calls with her mother at the age of nine, alone at fourteen. The family moved to a log cabin on Wheeling Ave. in Glen Dale in 1896.
Her desire to bring good health to all people led her on many strange paths.
After being admitted to a state TB sanitarium near Terra Alta tests proved to be false.
She started working with Dr. Harriet B. Jones, the first woman physician of W. Va. The doctor and Francina toured thirty-one counties in a Ford that had to be cranked. As there were no filling stations in those days they bought at country stores, putting the oil and gas in and fixing flat tires themselves. Blacksmiths did the car repairs. The mountain roads were often covered knee deep with snow or mud as they were gone from May till October. They showed stereopticon views and gave lectures.
In 1912 the Legislature appropriated $9,900 for educational campaigns for tuberculosis.
Dr. Jones sent Francina to the New York School of Social Science. While there, she contacted the TB National Headquarters informing them of W. Va.'s great need.
Coming home, she started working with Dr. Jones and Dr. William C. White, one of the first to found a clinic. A Health Service was formed, consisting of Dr. Jones, Susan Cooke, one of the first registered nurses, and Francina. They traveled over the country by horse and buggy - later in a Model T Ford.
The trio drove over rutted muddy and snow covered roads in remote areas. They offered programs (health plays that Francina wrote), lectures on the benefits of sanitary toilets and barns and inoculations, slides with the magic lantern and signs. One sign designed by her and painted by Ronald Mudge was used by the federal government in World War II. These programs were given in any building offered, even a funeral parlor. They also held parades.
She was instrumental in starting the County TB Association and established a modern sanitarium in the county and was the first county heath nurse, serving from 1924 to 1935, and at the same time was business manager at the sanitarium.
As health nurse she rode boxcars, horseback, horse and buggy and waded through knee-deep snow. She is well known for her work with the needy.
Leaving the health department she continued working for the TB Assn. Later was Matron of the Florence Crittenton Home in Wheeling. She came back to Moundsville to continue with the TB Assn.
In 1949 the Telephone Co. donated the building that was later moved to the City property on Morton Ave. where she worked until her retirement in 1971.
She was honored by many clubs and organizations including the Lions, who gave her a car for her work. It was the Reilley brothers who kept it in good working condition with very little cost to her.
At her retirement dinner given by the Tuesday Arts, who had helped with her work, she received many laurels including an honorary membership in the Marshall County Medical Assn.
In her lifetime she had a low-rent housing unit named for her. The cities of Moundsville and Glen Dale declared Francina McMahon Day. She organized the Sunday School that later became the M. E. Church of Glen Dale. Her life's work was the pattern Davis Grubb used for Marcy Cresap in "Voices of Glory."
She called Craig Shaw her public defender and dear friend. She loved nature and had many photos of the hills, Glen Dale Creek and the Ohio River.
Francina collected old treasures. The home she shared with her sister Elsie was filled with them. She lived there until her death in June 1973.
A tall, handsome woman, she had an almost military bearing. She had a ready wit and an ever present twinkle in her eye. Her hats, always a part of her attire, almost became her signature. She was equally at ease with the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated.
She lived modestly, never seeking accolades or monetary reward. Many people who had never heard of her owed their very existence to her and her untiring effort to make a better life for all. The community, the state and even the nation were touched by her unselfish dedication to the service of the sick and under privileged.
Moundsville Daily Echo, May 1971
(Articles provided by Mary Ann Goodrich. Selections presented here.)
Next Tuesday evening, a testimonial banquet will be held at Simpson Methodist church, honoring Miss Francina McMahon who is retiring after a long life of service to individual people, to the community and the state. Leading up to it, this series of sketches of some of the things "Miss Francy" has done, has been written by Mrs. Helen Bihler:
It was St. Patrick's Day eighty-seven years ago, when a baby girl was born to the McMahons in Moundsville.
Francina McMahon will proudly tell one that she is eighty-seven, although a short while back she wouldn't have told her age. She would have said that her sister was two years older than she, Francina, and her sister got mad if she told her age.
I had gone to visit Francina, to really check on all the legends I had heard about her, and the struggle she had to help establish a Health department in W. Va.
Having read Davis Grubb's book, "Voices of Glory," in which Francina was said to have been the real life model of the Public Health worker, I wanted to know.
Was she really arrested for practicing medicine without a license - did the doctors really say that she was preventing them earning a living, by trying to have the public inoculated against typhoid and diptheria, the most profitable diseases of the times? Had she really organized the Glendale Methodist church, and...?
Francina laughed and begged me to slow down. "Let's start with the church," she said. Yes, she had helped Glendale obtain its church.
Before it became so fashionable to worry about the physical state of the underprivileged, Francina had been concerned not only about their physical health but the spiritual health as well. Every Sunday she would gather up the underprivileged children of the community, encourage them to wash themselves and look their best for Sunday School.
The "History of Glendale Methodist Church," states, "Mention has been made of the effort to establish a Sunday School for Bible study and religious training prior to the building of the church in 1909.
"The first Sunday school in the church was organized in 1902 by the election of Miss Francina McMahon, as superintendent. Teachers were Rev. H. B. Moose, Jessie Stidger, Mrs. Ella Morris, Ralph Criswell and H. M. Stewart.
"The enrollment was 164. The group met each Sunday prior to the Morning services and continued this plan to the present time."
One Sunday she had attended services at the Simpson church (M. E.) in Moundsville. After the services, she said she felt called upon to tell Simpson congregation just how fortunate they were to have such a beautiful place to worship God in. She told them of her "children" and the hardship under which they met.
Francina said her speech must have been effective, as Mr. Bardall of the whip factory, told her to come to see him at the Prison the next day. The results were that Mr. Bardall gave $2,000 toward the Glendale Methodist church, and the members raised $2,000 to build the little white church that used to stand in Glendale.
Francina always loved the church. "I don't attend church any longer," Francina said. "I became an embarrassment to my family and friends - I became very hard of hearing. I didn't realize how bad I was. One Sunday the minister had asked me to have the closing prayer. I whispered to one of my Sunday School girls to let me know when to start. She reached over and patted my hand. I thought she meant, now, and I started praying loud and clear. It so happened the minister was in the middle of his own prayer. I couldn't hear the minister, but I could hear the startled gasp and nervous giggles of the congregation. I closed the services early that day.
"The final straw happened the Sunday the minister asked all mothers to come forward to the altar rail. I thought he had asked Miss Francina McMahon to come forward. I arose with my entire Sunday School class following, and half way down the aisle, the laughter of the congregation and embarrassed look on my sister's face made me realize I had done it again!
"My sister sang in the choir. It came down to either the church would lose a singer or a deaf sinner - and I stayed home after that.
Half a century ago, Miss Francina McMahon was taking health services to the people. This photo is one of several she has, showing transportation problems. The woman standing at left is Dr. Harriet B. Jones, first woman doctor in the state, who cooperated with Miss McMahon.
"It is always darkest before a new dawn," goes an old adage. This proved true in the life of Francina McMahon.
Not feeling well, she had a check-up and the doctor ran a TB test. The test was positive and the doctor told Francina that she would either go to the sanitorium or she would die in six months. With such a choice, she went to the sanitorium.
It was during this trying period that Francina became acquainted with Dr. Harriet Jones of Glendale, who was the first woman doctor in the state.
The test proved a false alarm, as Francina didn't have TB - but the period of hospitalization made Francina aware of the need of those who were sick.
Dr. Harriet Jones sent Francina to the New York School of Social Science, for a course in social work.
While in New York, Francina went to the national TB headquarters and told them of the need in West Virginia for health work. The TB association surveyed the state and found the need to be great.
"The people today can hardly imagine the ignorance of those days in regards to health," said Francina. "TB was considered hereditary as it seemed to run in families. Very few people knew how diseases spread, they just knew the tragic results."
Francina now had a mission in life - to save lives through education of the public and through preventive inoculation.
Dr. Harriet Jones, Mrs. Susan Cooke (Cook), one of the first woman R.N.s, and Francina formed a trio to carry this message to the public of the state.
First they went by horse and buggy, later, they had a Model T or the "Health Car" as it was called.
The hardship faced and conquered by these three women are almost unbelievable. Muddy, dusty, washed out, snowbound roads didn't stop them. They carried the story of public health to every town, up every hollow. They organized health parades, set up the story in store window displays and always the popular attraction - the Magic Lantern. The people just couldn't resist the appeal of the magic slide lantern. While they gathered to watch the magic pictures on the screen they were being indoctrinated with the story of public health.
Francina remembers one of the most effective places they ever held one of their magic shows. It was in the community outside of Mannington. When they arrived in that small community, they couldn't find a place to hold the show. Finally, the local undertaker offered the morgue, and the three accepted. The show was held using a coffin to hold the magic lantern and amidst the coffins the people were instructed in the need for sanitary dairy barns, toilets and inoculations.
First "Health Wagon" began Miss Francina McMahon's crusade for public health,
even before autos were generally available.
In the meantime, back on the industrial and medical front, the worry germs began to spread.
Marshall County wanted a two-cent levy to help finance the cost of public health.
The so-called "Moundsville Millionaires" were becoming very concerned, as this would affect them in a very vulnerable place - their pocketbooks.
Some of the medical profession were afflicted with same concern. Typhoid and diptheria were very profitable diseases. To eliminate these made some feel their livelihood was threatened. At this period there were thirty-eight doctors in the Moundsville area.
Francina insisted that she couldn't have accomplished anything if it hadn't been for the great number of real friendly and helpful people, but she did have some powerful enemies.
Yes, Francina said, she had been accused of practicing medicine without a license - not as dramatic as the Grubb version, but somewhat like that.
Francina had been called to a home beyond Cameron, where she found a child dying of diptheria. After the child died, Francina asked the county health officer to inoculate those who had come into contact with the child.
The family lived in an isolated section. To reach them, one had to walk through many miles of deep snow.
The health officer had a cold and didn't feel he could go. If Francina wanted to, he would authorize her to take the serum and inoculate those she felt needed it. This she did. The doctors were angry about this. For years Francina rocked the medical boat in her concern for public health.
The day finally came when her enemies closed in on her.
The county court met and was influenced to fire her as health officer. One of Francina's friends in the courthouse warned her of what was about to happen.
Francina never gave them the satisfaction of firing her. When they arrived at the health office, it was empty of Francina and possessions. She then took the position as director of the Florence Crittenton Home in Wheeling for a few years; but her heart still was in public health. When the TB association offered a position as director in Marshall County, she returned home.
Though her position was officially in TB, Francina was always interested in the moral and physical well-being of Marshall Countians.
Her work in the Penitentiary, to have all prisoners tested for TB when they were brought in, has controlled the disease inside the walls. At one time, there existed a high rate of TB among inmates and guards alike.
The many stories of how Francina cleaned up the TB sanitorium, how she brought TB testing to the schools, could fill a book.
She was always conscious of visual appeal and used posters at all levels. The one of which she is most proud she created with the aid of Mr. Mudge. It showed a white coffin carried by six black flies and the caption read, "Typhoid Carriers."
The National TB headquarters picked it up for their use and Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt had the poster distributed for use among her poverty programs.
Smallpox, typhoid, diptheria, just names of forgotten diseases now, and much of the credit can be given to a woman of great courage, determination that her vision of a healthy public should come true. Many Marshall Countians who have never heard of Francina McMahon owe her their lives.
On May 11, the Tuesday Arts club will try in a small measure to say, "Thank you, Francina McMahon."
Miss Francina McMahon, who was honored with many gifts and congratulatory remarks, is pictured receiving some of the tokens of appreciation at a dinner held in her honor Tuesday evening at Simpson United Methodist Church, Moundsville, sponsored by the Tuesday Arts Club of Moundsville. Among those on the program were Mrs. Dan Bihler, program chairman for the dinner and Mrs. Perry Stout, president of the Tuesday Arts Club. Second row, Andrew T. Cheon, who presented a plaque from the Moundsville Lions Club; Thomas A. Deveny of Fairmont, former executive director of the State Tuberculosis and Respiratory Disease Association, who presented a citation from that group; and Miss McMahon's brothers, Richard and Joseph, both of Glen Dale. Miss McMahon, who is 87 years of age, recently retired as executive secretary of the Marshall County Tuberculosis Society.