Dr. Sarah Messmer is an assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics and splits her time between the two departments. She is originally from the suburbs of Chicago and is happy to be back after completing her medical school training at Harvard and med-peds residency at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Messmer’s clinical interests include LGBTQIA+ affirming care, refugee and immigrant health, and opioid use disorder. She enjoys spending time outdoors with her wife and four children.
Dr. Mahesh Patel
Dr. Patel was born in India and came to the US when he was 1 1/2 yrs. old. He grew up in the Skokie-Evanston area and went to high school in Evanston, where he currently lives. After attending UC-Berkeley for undergrad, he made his way to The Ohio State University for medical school. He then went on to do a residency in combined internal medicine and pediatrics at Indiana University. After residency, he moved to NY City to do a 4-year translational research fellowship in infectious diseases at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore medical center. After fellowship, he stayed in NYC and worked at Jacobi Medical Center (a city hospital in the Bronx). He decided to move back home with his family in 2010 and started working at UIC in August of that year. His primary clinical interests include HIV medicine and tuberculosis. He has been active with UIC’s medical school curriculum since 2012 as an instructor of microbiology and more recently as a Phase I Block lead. He enjoys spending his free time with his family and friends, playing cards, and riding his motorcycle.
Isabella Garnett, MD (1872-1948)
On August 22, 1872, Isabella Garnett was born into the earliest African-American family to arrive in the Evanston, Illinois area.Her parents were founders of the first black Baptist church organized in Evanston. After taking business courses at a Minneapolis college, Garnett returned to the Chicago area and matriculated at the Nurse Training School of Provident Hospital, the country’s first black-owned hospital. She worked as a school nurse for two years before enrolling in a premedical program at Harvey Medical College. Garnett then enrolled at Chicago’s College of Physicians and Surgeons (known today as UIC’s Medical college) and obtained her medical degree in 1901. The courageous Garnett was one of the earliest African American women physicians in Illinois. Garnett practiced privately until 1914, when she and her husband opened the Evanston Sanitarium on the upper floors of their home.
1914: Founded the Evanston Sanitarium, the first African American medical center north of the Chicago Loop
1939: Became superintendent of the Community Hospital of Evanston, formerly the Butler Memorial Hospital
1948: In the year of her passing, a day of honor was dedicated to Dr. Garnett as part of the National Negro Health Week. The US Public Health Service instituted this week in 1915, in response to data from Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute The creation of National Negro Health Week resulted in the formation of the National Negro Health Movement, which formed to improve the status of Black Americans’ health year-round
Dr. Garnett Biography
On August 22, 1872, Isabella Garnet was born into the earliest African-American family to arrive in the Evanston area. Her parents, Daniel Garnett and Hannah McDuffin had moved into Evanston in 1864, and eventually, their family grew to include seven children. Mr. Garnett was a shoemaker and worked in his own store and several other establishments. Daniel and Hannah were founders of the Second Baptist Church (Robinson), which records this history about the founders on its website:
Second Baptist Church is the first black Baptist church organized in Evanston, Illinois. It was established on November 17, 1882, with twenty charter members in a room over the post office, which was located east of the alley on Davis Street between Chicago and Orrington Avenues. This group of former slaves consisted of ten members of the predominantly white First Baptist Church (Nathan and Ellen Branch, Daniel and Mary Garnett, George and Maria Robinson, Andrew and Susan Scott, Richard Day and William Enders) and ten other Village residents. Many were well-respected members of the community, and several owned their own businesses. The organizing pastor was the Reverend S. T. Clanton, a student at the Baptist Union Theological Seminary in Morgan Park, Illinois. (Second Baptist Church)
Leonard describes the post-Civil War cultural climate of Evanston in “Paternalism And The Rise of A Black Community in Evanston, Illinois: 1870-1930”: “At least two characteristics of Evanston during the first decades after the Civil War made the city attractive to migrating blacks…Evanston accorded blacks a degree of hospitality that was unusual…” (quoted in Robinson). Although Evanston was relatively better than most Northern cities in the Civil War and Reconstruction periods, it is important to set the broader context of the hardships into which Dr. Garnett was born. The severe racial bias in the North has been surveyed on the “Slavery in the North” histories by Harper:
When the Civil War ended, 19 of 24 Northern states did not allow blacks to vote. Nowhere did they serve on juries before 1860. They could not give testimony in 10 states, and were prevented from assembling in two. Several western states had prohibited free blacks from entering the state. Blacks who entered Illinois and stayed more than 10 days were guilty of “high misdemeanor.” Even those that didn’t exclude blacks debated doing so and had discriminatory ordinances on the local level. (Harper)
Garnett attended high school in Evanston and went on to take business courses at a Minneapolis college. After coming back to the Chicago area, she matriculated at the Provident Hospital Nurse Training School in 1895 (Evanston’s History Center). Provident Hospital was the country’s first black-owned hospital. Garnett worked as a school nurse for 2 years in this period of early training. Following Nursing School, Garnett entered the Harvey Medical College between 1897-99 and earned a premedical certificate (Wikipedia citing Dreger). After attaining her certificate, Garnett enrolled at Chicago’s College of Physicians and Surgeons (known today as UIC’s Medical college) and obtained her medical degree in 1901 (Evanston Women’s History Project). The courageous Garnett was one of the earliest African American women physicians in Illinois (Illinois State Museum web page).
After interning on the South Side of Chicago, Dr. Garnett moved back to Evanston in 1904, and 3 years later she married Dr. Arthur Butler in 1907 (Evanston Women’s History Project). Dr. Arthur Butler was one of very few African American medical school graduates of Northwestern University (Hubbard).
Garnett continued to practice privately until 1914 when she and her husband opened the Evanston Sanitarium. This training school and care facility was established on the upper floor of the couple’s house in Evanston (Evanston Women’s History Project).
In JNMA’s 1953 running commentary, “The Integration Battle Front,” notes some of the collaborative forces that moved to found this health clinic in order to serve the massively underserved black population in the area: “the two physicians were aided in their undertaking by many of the most eminent physicians and surgeons of Evanston the North Shore” (The New Community Hospital…). The commentary goes on to offer readers a fuller view of the story, however, citing the historical racially biased practices in the Evanston and Chicago area hospitals, which had longstanding patterns of refusing to offer services to African Americans. At the time, only one of 4 hospitals in the Chicago area accepted African American patients and employed African American physicians. Hubbard comments: “The inherent cruelty involved in dealing with so vital a matter as health along racial lines has received editorial comment in this Journal” (The New Community Hospital…).
The Garnett’s Sanitarium, which addressed the community’s urgent needs was the first African American medical center established north of the Chicago Loop. Garnett’s husband served as the Sanitarium’s only surgeon and general practitioner, working in anesthesia and obstetrics until he died in 1924. After Dr. Butler’s death, Dr. Garnett managed the Sanitarium on her own, funding it with income from her own practice. She renamed the hospital as the “Butler Memorial Hospital” in honor of her beloved husband (Evanston Women’s History Project).
The Butler Memorial Hospital saw a huge increase of patients with the occurrence of the Great Migration, the period 1910-1925 when African Americans moved from the Southern states to the Northern States in search of a better living and relief from the Jim Crow culture. During this period, Garnett’s tiny 3- room 2-story facility was a “lifeline” of medical treatment for thousands of African American residents for the over 50 years it functioned. Many of those who benefited from the Garnett-Butler achievement were living witnesses to the dire need their hospital supplied. Tribute reporter, Tracy Dell’Angela interviewed 76-year old Laverne Strickland in 1996 about the hospital where she was born and the de facto segregation of the time. Strickland said, “It was a known fact that you did not try to go to the white hospitals. Unless you were dying, you were not welcome” (Dell’Angela).
In 1930, Garnett married Baptist minister, James Talley. In the same year, the Butler Memorial Hospital merged with the Booker T. Washington Association of Evanston, relocated, and took on a new name, The Community Hospital of Evanston. The new hospital started in the house of Dr. Rudolph Penn as an 18-bed facility. From 1939 to 1945, Isabella Garnett served officially as the organization’s superintendent (Evanston Women’s History Project).
Isabella Garnett retired in 1946 after a magnificent career of service and building. In 1948, she passed away from cardiac complications at age 76 in the hospital she built.
Earlier in 1948, the year of Dr. Garnett’s passing, a day of honor was dedicated to her as part of the National Negro Health Week. Tiffany Walker, Archives Technician at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland posted the following entry describing this week and its meaning in the forward movement toward caring for African American citizens:
“National Negro Health Week” began in 1915, in response to disturbing findings by the Tuskegee Institute that highlighted the poor health status of African Americans in the early part of the 20th Century. At a session of the Tuskegee Negro Conference in 1914, founder of the Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington brought forth data, which showed the economic costs of the poor health status of the black population in the United States.
The U. S. Public Health Service then instituted “National Negro Health Week” in response to these findings, in order to improve the health status of the black population by educating members of the community, providing greater access to healthcare, and encouraging an increased number of black professionals in the field of public health. National Negro Health Week was observed during the first week of April, and focused on educating black communities throughout America on methods of acquiring health care and informing students on proper health practices.
The creation of National Negro Health Week resulted in the formation of the National Negro Health Movement, which formed to improve the status of black health in America year round. Organizations that participated in this movement included the Annual Tuskegee Negro Conference, the National Medical Association, the National Negro Business League, and the National Negro Insurance Association. The movement, in collaboration with the U. S. Public Health Service, published the “National Negro Health News” quarterly. The publication focused on planning for annual National Negro Health Week activities, as well as reporting on new data and reports related to the status of black health. (Walker)
We note that our Dr. Isabella Garnet Butler was in the vanguard of this movement.
The Evanston Community Hospital Dr. Garnett started was expanded to a new facility in October 1952. The JNMA reported in 1953 on the modern new facility, which Garnett had envisioned and brought into being:
“The new hospital has fifty-four beds in two bed-rooms, a nursery with twelve bassinets, two operating rooms and two delivery rooms. It is built on one floor and cost $940,000. $15,000 is still needed for equipment and $40,000 more to convert the old hospital building into quarters for nurses. $394,000 was contributed under one Federal grant approved by the U. S. Public Health Service in November 1950. Additional public aid in the sum of $56,000 has been announced…” (The New Community Hospital…)
In 1975, a park near the hospital was dedicated as the “Isabella G. Butler Park” (Evanston Women’s History Project).
Walker, T. “National Negro Health Week: 1915 to 1951.” Posted March 29, 2016 in African-American Women, Civil Rights. Accessed May 2020 at: https://rediscovering-black-history.blogs.archives.gov/2016/03/29/national-negro-health-week-1915-to-1951/
Wikipedia contributors. (2020, May 8). Isabella Garnett. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed May 2020 at: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Isabella_Garnett&oldid=955477089 . Wikipedia citing Dreger. Dreger, Marianne; Wishart, Patricia C. (1990). “Garnett Butler Talley, Isabella Maude”. In Schulz; Hast (eds.). Women Building Chicago, 1790-1990. Indiana University Press. pp. 303–306.