Augusta Rosenthal-Thompson, Traverse City’s first woman doctor, and the six-year-old son she could not save from diphtheria in the 1890s, finally will get a headstone at Oakwood Cemetery in Traverse City.
A graveside memorial dedication is scheduled for Saturday at 11 a.m. — Rosenthal-Thompson’s birthday — thanks to the Grand Traverse Area Genealogical Society, Zonta Club of Traverse City and local history writers Gini LeClaire and Richard Fidler.
Fidler, a retired Traverse City junior science and biology teacher, includes a chapter on Rosenthal-Thompson in his 2006 book, “Who We Were, What We Did.” It noted that the doctor and her son were buried next to each other in an unmarked grave, something Fidler discovered while researching his book.
“I was touched that this woman who did so much for the community was buried in an unmarked grave and I wondered why,” he said. “The genealogical society really went to bat to make this happen. All I offered was a little window of her life.”
The unmarked grave also bothered LeClaire, another local history writer, who thought the genealogical society should raise money to purchase a granite headstone. About that time, GTAGS member Kathleen Farley saw a short Record-Eagle story that Zonta, an international women’s service club, sought grant applications for local projects.
LeClaire submitted one. Zonta replied with a $1,200 grant to pay for the headstone, a bronze plaque and the memorial ceremony.
“We have no idea why she was buried in an unmarked grave,” Farley said. “I assume it was because she wanted to be buried by her son, Jackie.”
Rosenthal-Thompson was born June 1, 1859 in Fort Wayne, Ind., the third of 11 children, wrote Robert E. Wilson in his three-volume Grand Traverse Legends, a local history published over the last decade about important people in area history.
Four of her siblings died in a cholera epidemic. She lost her mother to cancer and became a second mother to the younger children in the family, who eventually moved to Grand Rapids.
In 1884, at age 25, she became of one the early women to graduate from the University of Michigan medical school. She opened her Traverse City practice in 1886, advertising that her specialty was treating women and children. She married Dr. Isaac Alonzo Rosenthal the following year.
Jackie, whose full name is Isaac Alonzo Rosenthal Jr., was born in 1889 and died March 2, 1896, at the age of “6 years, 3 months and 11 days, “ as tombstones and death certificates often recorded ages then.
The little boy’s death spurred the grieving mother to search for a cure. She traveled to New York and then Europe, and took classes in Vienna, Austria and visited hospitals and clinics in Berlin, Budapest, and Zurich. She returned to Traverse City two years later with the first apparatus for blood infusions.
That same day, the parents of one of Jackie’s friends came to her with their sick son and asked her to save him from diphtheria. She did.
She moved to Grand Rapids about 1911, nine years after she and her husband divorced. In 1917, she went to Philadelphia to treat women and children of World War I veterans and later returned to Grand Rapids. She retired about 1930 and died at age 94 on March 31, 1954 in a Berrien Springs nursing home.
Rosenthal-Thompson received local acclaim last fall when she was one of three Traverse City citizens to be named a “Legend” in the History Center of Traverse City’s ongoing project to identify people who blazed trails and made an important difference in the lives of local residents.
For the full article, see Loraine Anderson, “Headstone awaits pioneering woman doctor”, Traverse City Record Eagle, May 29, 2013.
For more information, see Lynn Geiger, “Is the Doctor In? Why Yes, She Is”, the Ticker, September 21, 2012.
Megan Moore, Now You Know: Dr. Augusta Rosenthal-Thompson, UpNorthLive, September 27, 2012.
Video from History Center of Traverse City Facebook Page.