Annie Mason Reid was born in late June of 1846 to the Reverend Dr. John Morrison Reid and his wife Anna Mason Reid. Annie never knew her mother who died from the complications associated with giving birth less than two weeks after Annie was born.

The Reverend Reid was a Methodist minister who married Caroline Sanford Fanton shortly after his first wife passed away. Caroline was the granddaughter of Aaron Sanford who founded the second Methodist Society in New England from his home on Cross Highway in Redding. During the earliest years of their marriage, the Reverend Reid preached in Middletown and Derby, Connecticut.

Caroline raised Annie as her own daughter. In the 1850’s the family moved to Syracuse, New York where the Reverend Reid became the president of Genesee College. He held that position from 1857 until 1864. During the last year of his tenure, 18-year old Annie taught Sunday School at the college chapel. Genesse College would later become Syracuse University.

While serving as president of Genesee College, the General Conference of the Methodist Church of the United States appointed the Reverend Dr. Reid editor of The Western Christian Advocate, in Cincinnati in 1864. Reid exhibited a unique ability to write about religious matters, and at the next General Conference he was again selected to become an editor, but this time at The Northwestern Christian Advocate in Chicago. While editor of that periodical, Dr. Reid was elected a Bishop in the Canadian Methodist Episcopal Church, but he declined the position, preferring to remain in the United States.

While her parents were residing in the mid-west, Annie became interested in medicine, a field where women were readily accepted as nurses, but not as physicians. Obtaining a medical degree as a woman would be difficult, as most colleges wouldn’t accept female applicants for their schools of medicine.

Annie was determined to become a licensed physician. She moved back to New York to study and then intern under Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, who in 1849 had become the first woman in the United States to earn a certificate to practice medicine. She and her sister Emily established the New York Infirmary for Women & Children in 1857.

The Blackwell sister’s infirmary, located in the Five Points neighborhood of New York City was constantly busy. Overcrowded tenements, poor sanitation, and abject poverty created the perfect environment for illness and epidemics. In their first year alone, they treated and cared for over 860 indigent women.

That infirmary eventually evolved into what is today NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital.

Several years later, the Blackwell sisters founded the Women’s Medical College. The college, established in 1869, opened its doors with 15 students and 9 faculty members. Dr. Blackwell was an advocate for the poor and Annie embraced that philosophy.

While living as a child in Connecticut when her father was ministering there, Annie had met some of her stepmother’s relatives from Redding. One was Julia H. Sanford, the niece of Caroline Sanford Fanton Reid, Annie’s stepmother. Julia was five years Annie’s senior, but they became fast friends and in later years would live together in Julia’s home on Redding Ridge as life partners and caregivers.

Julia and Annie’s home on Redding Ridge in 1906.

After graduating from the Women’s Medical College in the late 1870’s and then receiving her medical license, Annie moved to Redding to take up residence with Julia and begin her practice of medicine, an absolutely unprecedented move in the 19th century. While Annie wasn’t the very first woman in Connecticut to become licensed to practice medicine, she was most certainly among the first half-dozen to earn that right. How shocked most of the locals must have been to meet a female physician.

There are no physicians listed in the 1900 U.S. Census residing in Easton. Articles in the Newtown Bee only mentioned doctors in nearby towns when it came to caring for Easton residents. This would have certainly been a short-lived situation but given that Easton’s population had declined to only about 900 at the turn of the century, it appeared to be a reality of the times. Given the lack of local available medical care, even the most skeptical of patients would have likely welcomed Annie’s skills.

One of Easton’s indigent residents whom Annie treated was an African American man by the name of Hobart Purdy. Hobart was better known in town as Five Fingered Jack, perhaps a moniker he had picked up while serving a prison term for burglary in the 1880’s. Annie diagnosed his condition as pyemia, a type of blood poisoning. Unable to pay, he was treated free of charge.

While practicing medicine in Redding, Annie not only treated those who might not have had the ability to pay, but she and Julia often housed them while they were being cared for and recuperating. Taking care of the less fortunate was in their nature.

The two women provided care and a place to stay for one of Annie’s former classmates at the Women’s Medical College, Doctor Kate Parker. Doctor Parker had spent the major part of her career as the resident physician delivering babies to indigent women at the New York Infant Asylum on 10th Avenue in New York City. When Kate became too ill to continue her practice, she and her teenaged, adopted son were taken in and cared for by Annie and Julia. Diagnosed with an incurable disease, the pair cared for Kate for over two years until her death in 1895, and after that, Annie paid for the transportation of Kate’s body to New Jersey where she was buried in the family plot.

By 1896, Annie Reid had adopted two daughters, Emma Shaw Reid born in 1885 and Ruth Chittenden Reid born in 1888. While details of those adoptions aren’t known, given her charitable nature, it is conceivable that Annie, like her mentor, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell and her dear friend Dr. Kate Parker, adopted her children when their unwed mothers couldn’t provide a home for them. The fact that Annie’s eldest child bore the name of one of Julia’s cousins would leave one to believe that Emma had been adopted as an infant.

Doctor Annie Reid with her two adopted daughters, Emma and Ruth

Unconvinced that Redding’s public schools with its uncertified teachers would provide her girls with an adequate education, Annie and Julia hired a young graduate of the state’s Normal school to act as both a governess and teacher. Miss Bolande taught Annie’s daughters and four other children in the cottage that Julia owned across from the farm.  

Annie Reid suffered a fall in her home in 1923 and passed away several weeks later. A true pioneer during her time, she will forever be an important part of local history.

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By Bruce Nelson

Director of Research for the Historical Society of Easton Town Co-Historian for the Town of Redding, Connecticut Author/Publisher at Sport Hill Books