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Dr. Isabella M. Garnett

Dr. Isabella M. Garnett (August 22, 1872 – August 23, 1948)

Trailblazing Nurse/Doctor/Philanthropist/Entrepreneur

During Black History Month 2014, the Center for the Church and the Black Experience is honoring faithful Black women freedom fighters. Today we honor Dr. Isabella M. Garnett.

garnettA member of an early black family that settled in Evanston, Illinois, Dr. Isabella Garnett joined the medical profession at a time when it was not commonplace for women, especially black women, to have such aspirations.

Isabella Maude Garnett, the seventh of nine children, attended the local schools as did her siblings.  After high school, she moved to Minneapolis, attended business school and worked for a printer.  When Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, founder of the Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses in Chicago, recruited her in 1893, she returned from Minneapolis to attend.

She stated “I took up nursing to work my way through school, but I knew I wanted to be a physician and have my own hospital someday.”  After earning a diploma in 1895, Miss Garnett worked as a nurse and later attended the Physician’s and Surgeon’s College (now the University of Illinois College of Medicine), graduating in 1901.  After Dr. Garnett built a private practice in Chicago, she returned to Evanston and shared an office with her dentist brother, William.

In 1907, she married Arthur DeLyons Butler, a medical student at Northwestern University.  Local hospitals became more reluctant to admit black patients, so in May 1914, the couple opened the interracial Evanston Sanitarium in their home.  The only medical facility for blacks north of Chicago, it became the Community Hospital in 1930.  She served as its Superintendent until 1946.

Dr. Garnett’s long-time affiliation with the Second Baptist Church of Evanston inspired her to pay off its longstanding mortgage in 1942.  During a testimonial in recognition of her support of the hospital and service in organizations such as the NAACP and the Iroquois League, she turned over a purse of nearly $4,700.00 collected on her behalf.

The Isabella Butler Park in northwest Evanston stands as a memorial to her legacy.


Compiled by Rhonda K. Craven


# Geraldine Beckford 2014-03-13 10:20
I am delighted to see this recognition of Dr. Butler. Unfortunately, the generosity and sacrifice of these early medical pioneers, particularly the women, have been lost to African American history.
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