By: Karen Bruner Stroup, Ph.D., Retired Director, Community Education and Child Advocacy, Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health; Secretary, Riley Hospital Historic Preservation Committee Richard L. Schreiner, MD, Edwin L. Gresham Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics, Indiana University School of Medicine; Retired Chairman, Department of Pediatrics; Chairman, Riley Hospital Historic Preservation Committee; Retired Physician-in-Chief, Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health
Four years after Riley Hospital for Children opened its doors on November 19, 1924, Martha Chandley Souter, M.D. became the first woman faculty member in the Department of Pediatrics at the James Whitcomb Riley Hospital for Children. Dr. Souter was appointed an Assistant in Pediatrics in 1928, an Associate in Pediatrics in 1932, and a Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics in 1983, the same year she retired after 57 years in private practice. When she died on July 19, 1986, she had been affiliated with Indiana University as a volunteer faculty member for 62 years.
“First” always carries with it high expectations for performance and Dr. Souter’s exemplary career as a pediatrician and teacher reflects an inspiring example to be remembered today. Early historical Indianapolis newspapers provide accounts of a young pediatrician who hit the ground running to make a difference. Dr. Souter frequently spoke to many community organizations about child health-related topics. She was the physician for a local immunization campaign for children for which she was a champion. She recalled the days when she began her practice: “Diphtheria, whooping cough, scarlet fever, and measles were contagious diseases which took their toll. With no antibiotics, we just did the best we could.” In her early practice, Dr. Souter made “house calls by auto or foot all over town.”
Dr. Souter was born in Whitehall, New York and lived in Indianapolis since 1927. A 1924 graduate of the Cornell Medical College (1 of 10 women graduating in a class of 60, 1 of 5 women on full scholarship), she completed her internship and residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York (she later recalled making $13 a month). When she came to Riley Hospital for Children in 1928, several women physicians were already in practice, including Jane Merrill Ketcham, M.D., whose practice as a long-serving Indianapolis obstetrician spanned 54 years (1906-1960), was a Clinical Professor of Medicine, one of the first women faculty members of the IU School of Medicine; Lillian B. Mueller, M.D., first woman graduate from the IU School of Medicine in 1909 and first woman who joined the Methodist Hospital medical staff in 1910 as an anesthesiologist; and later, Olga Bonke-Booher, M.D., served as one of the first female chief residents in Pediatrics in 1933. Dr. Souter joined with other young women in the community where she flexed her abilities in various leadership roles in the Women’s Rotary Club (Note:Amelia Keller, M.D., the first woman faculty member in the IU School of Medicine (1908-1919), was a founding member and first President of the Rotary Club in 1919) , the Indianapolis Medical Society, and the Indiana State Medical Association.
Dr. Souter not only taught at the Indiana University School of Medicine, she also helped train nurses at St. Vincent Hospital, Methodist Hospital (where she, at the time the oldest pediatrician in Indianapolis, was named Staff Emeritus in 1977), and the former City Hospital (now Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital).
Described in her later years as “tall and straight as a tongue depressor,” Dr. Souter was an unforgettable presence in the lives of the families she cared for as one mother recalled:
Dr. Souter was my pediatrician and the pediatrician to both of my sons. She was a no nonsense sort of woman and doctor. As a child, I was very in awe of her, yet I always felt safe in her office. . . She was always very gentle and kind to me. When she looked at me I felt she was looking into my very soul. At the tender age of 16, I found myself pregnant. I was very alone, and very scared. . . I will never forget seeing her radiant face peeking around the corner and saying to me “I thought his had to be you, what a beautiful baby boy you have given birth to!”. . . Dr. Souter came to my bedside and hugged me and told me to be strong. Dr. Souter remained my sons’ pediatrician until they reached puberty. During that time that she took care of my little family, she taught me to trust my own instincts. She let me know I was a good mother and that she was proud of how my children were progressing and growing. She told me she had faith in me. . . She gave me the courage to be a strong and loving woman and to put fear behind me. I will never forget Dr. Souter and I will love her always.
Remembering Dr. Souter today is a reminder of the importance of all the little and big things that physicians do over time to teach and mentor their colleagues and to reach their patients to provide not only education and care but support and encouragement to their families as well.
“Dr. Jane M. Ketcham Dies Here at Age 90,” Indianapolis Star, September 24, 1970, p. 60, accessed through Indianapolis Public Library and “Dr. Jane, After Long Career, Semi-Retired,” Indianapolis Star, April 24, 1960, p. 77, accessed through Indianapolis Public Library.
“Dr. Olga Bonke-Booher worked in pediatrics, was civic leader,” Indianapolis Star, November 1, 2002, p. 30, accessed through Indianapolis Public Library.
Left: Martha Chandley Souter, M.D., 1924 Cornell Medical School graduating class photo and Right: Martha Souter, M.D., internship and residency at Belleview Hospital, New York (Dr. Souter is 2nd from left). Photos courtesy of the Medical Center Archives of New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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