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History of Medicine Blog Series: Dr. Sarah Rebecca Parrish (1869-1952)

An image of Dr. Sarah Rebecca Parrish

Born in Crawfordsville, Indiana in 1869, Dr. Sarah Rebecca Parrish would go on to make noteworthy, international contributions to medicine. After several years working at North Indiana Hospital for the Insane in Logansport, she was appointed by the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church to serve in Manila, Philippines. When Dr. Parrish arrived, the country was going through upheaval and left with a devasted infrastructure after years of war.  Significantly, she was the first female doctor to practice medicine in the country as she went to work making many desperately needed changes. She worked in a small clinic with the rule that no patient be turned away, though she had a strong focus on mothers and children. Due to the number of patients, the clinic was converted to a small hospital and she began training nurses to assist her. She was able to help mothers become healthier and decrease child mortality with proper medicine and treatment. People from all over the region came to be treated and this further increase led to the funding and opening of Mary Johnston Hospital in 1908. Over the years, the hospital suffered from poor funding, being on the brink of financial failure several times, suffered destruction by fire twice, and endured occupation by Japanese forces during WWII. However, through generous donations, the hospital was eventually refurbished and modernized. As a missionary, Parrish traveled the world multiple times, learned several languages, and advocated for women’s rights. From a small farm community to having a significant impact on public health, Dr. Parrish is one of Indiana’s medical heroes. She came back to Indiana in 1933, after twenty-seven years abroad, and continued to educate others about her work. She died in Indianapolis in 1952 and is buried in Washington Park East Cemetery.

Dr. Parrish’s biography can be found on page 160 of Laura Lynn Windsor’s Women in Medicine: An Encyclopedia (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2002), available at the Ruth Lilly Medical Library.

Image source: “History,” Mary Johnston College of Nursing, Philippine Christian University, 2017,

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Safar Saydshoev