I am a genealogy nut. Well, genealogy AND history but the nut part is correct. I watch far too many Netflix documentaries and have spent many nights lost in the YouTube rabbit hole learning about people from distant times and places.
I want to share with you one of the most fascinating people that I have ever met. I know, I know, I haven’t actually met her, she died some forty years before I was born but I have done so much research that I feel like I have met her.
Her name was Meta Howard. Her father and my Great Great Grandfather were brothers which makes us 1st cousins, 3x removed. I know what you are thinking but I count everyone no matter how distantly related we are.
Anyway, Meta was born in Albion, Michigan on June 13, 1862 to Henry and Adeline Howard. Henry was fairly well off having gotten into the lumber business which was booming during that time. They had five children in total, Mary (born 1860), Meta, Hibbard (born 1864), Stanton (born 1866) and Clara (born 1873). As far as I can tell they lived a normal life up until the late 1870s, early 1880s.
At some point Meta decided she wanted to become a doctor. This doesn’t sound too extreme but in the 1800s there were very few female physicians. There weren’t that many schools that would accept females into medical school and even in they were able to get in, women faced discrimination and societal repression. So the fact that Meta graduated and became a doctor was an amazing feat.
I want to veer off the path a bit and explain the medical system in Korea in the 1800s. There were no female doctors or nurses. Female patient’s medical needs were neglected as culture dictated male doctors could not treat/touch females. This meant that female patients were suffering and even dying from common ailments that were fully treatable in the United States.
At some point, the Women’s Foreign Missionaries decided that they would send people to train females as doctors and nurses to expand medical coverage to women. This school expanded into the first hospital dedicated to teaching and treating women. It is still in existence to this day and is called EWTA Woman’s University.
Meta arrived in 1887 and immediately set to work. History says that she learned to speak the Korean language in just a few weeks. Unfortunately, Meta’s health began to deteriorate and she had returned to Michigan by 1891 where she opened her own office and remained there as long as she practiced medicine.
Now if that was all that she did, she would have been a blip on my family tree. An important blip but a blip none the less. However in 1911, her father died. In his will he left everything to Adeline, not that uncommon, she would need resources to live out the rest of her life but very soon after Henry’s death lawsuits began to be filed.
Apparently Meta and Henry had some sort of falling out and Henry did not want her to inherit any of his estate. His son Stanton felt that when their mother died she would probably divide what was left between all of her children and he set out to do whatever necessary to keep that from happening.
Over the next few years, there were many court filings with Mary, Hibbard and Clara going back and forth between sides but the common parties were always Meta vs Stanton. They were still in court long after Adeline died in 1916 with a judge finally splitting the estate as equal as possible. So in the end, after all of that fighting, Stanton lost.
It was about this time, late 1918-1919 that Meta began acting strangely. According to newspaper accounts, she was declared insane in 1923 and placed in an institution where she remained until she died on July 28, 1930.
I’m going to veer again for just a moment. At some point, Meta’s sister Mary was also placed in the same institution. I have found no information on why or when but she remained institutionalized until her death in 1932. Here is what intrigues me about both women’s hospitalizations. In each case, brother Stanton went to court to be named guardian and executor. Being a sibling I would think that would be standard but in both cases he was turned down and an attorney was placed in the role.
I have no hard information and could be wrong but I feel like there were some shady dealings going on in the family. I’m sure there were some residual hard feelings between the siblings. Could feelings have been so bad that a judge was concerned about Stanton having such a significant role in his sister’s lives? Especially when they were not in a position to protect themselves. I wish I could find the actual court recordings to know exactly what went down. I guess I’ll never know.
I think what fascinates me about Meta is how strong of a woman she was to have not only become a physician but to travel to a foreign land when that wasn’t as common as it is today and to do such important work. And after all of that she ended her life confined to a mental institution not knowing much of who she was or what was going on around her. I wish I could have met her before her mind began to fail. I have Meta’s picture on my desk and look at it daily. I hope that the strength that she had will some how filter down to me and I may become just half of the woman she was.