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Saginaw's Doctor: Martha Longstreet

Martha Longstreet (1870 – 1953) was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, and she moved to Saginaw with her family as a young child. She graduated from a nursing program in 1893 and worked as a nurse for about seven years. She then studied at the Illinois Medical School. In 1904, she graduated with honors. There were 219 in her class - 19 women and 200 men.

She returned to Saginaw and these excerpts from the Saginaw County Hall of Fame website give some idea of her activities and accomplishments:

“During her first year of practice, before she could afford her own horse and buggy, she would take streetcars as close as she could to the home of patients and walk the rest of the way. Her first horse, Maude, a dainty black mare, later drew Dr. Martha about town in a black phaeton. She answered house calls day and night in the professional custom of that time. In one busy year she built a sizable general practice and was made attending physician at the former Children’s Hospital, later known as the Woman’s Hospital of Saginaw, then St. Luke’s Hospital and now Covenant. For many years she was the hospital’s only staff doctor. In its early years she often spent entire days and nights there, sometimes fighting epidemics almost single-handed.

“Dr. Martha always noticed things like threadbare carpets, made-over clothing and whether there seemed enough food in the cupboard and ice box. Sometimes, people said, packages of things to wear and food to eat arrived mysteriously after she finished a case in homes like that. Nobody could prove a thing, she would insist. It also was said nobody ever learned all there was to know about Dr. Martha’s devious bookkeeping system. Sometimes it had to do with how long it would take that young couple to get back on their feet after all their sickness. Or whether her bill should be sent in the summer, or later, or whether it went at all.

“In 1921 she decided to limit her practice to children. To become a pediatrician, she did postgraduate work at Presbyterian Hospital, New York City, and attended summer sessions at Harvard University. She was recognized as an expert diagnostician whose colleagues enjoyed working with her. She was a woman unafraid of changes. When automobiles became popular, she was one of the first women in Saginaw to own and drive one.”

Today, she is most often remembered for the pioneering and lasting contributions she made to public organizations in Saginaw – she was a major force in the establishment of the First Ward Community Center. Although she died nearly seven decades ago, there are still a few people who recall that Dr. Longstreet was THEIR doctor demonstrating how she was committed to giving them her undivided attention.


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