Our Upcoming Conference

OASIS to Co-sponsor 51 st Annual History Conference

We are happy to announce that our 51st Annual Congress of History Conference “Scandals & Scoundrels” is being co-sponsored by OASIS, a unique educational program for adults 50+ who want to continue to learn and be productive during the best years of their lives. Membership in OASIS is free and open to anyone 50 or older. Members receive a catalog of opportunities three times a year. (OASIS membership is not necessary to attend the 2016 Conference, however you are welcome to join them if you wish, for those age 50+.)

The conference will be held Friday, March 4 and Saturday, March 5, 2016 at the OASIS San Diego Facility: Mission Valley Shopping Mall, 1702 Camino del Rio North (off Hwy. 8), in San Diego, CA 92108, on the third floor of Macy’s (the Macy’s clothing store, on the southeast corner of the mall, off Camino del Rio North). Lots of free, off-street parking is next to the store.

Founded in 1982 in St. Louis, OASIS is a nonprofit organization serving people 50+ throughout the United States, including the San Diego region. Their community service programs benefit all ages and communities. Their mission is to promote successful aging through a three-fold approach: lifelong learning, healthy living, and community service. OASIS offers a broad range of stimulating educational classes from the arts and humanities to wellness, fitness, and travel. At OASIS one may pursue an old or new interest, learn how one can stay healthy and active, and make new friends.

OASIS uses the entire third floor of the Macy’s clothing store, Mission Valley Mall, for their classes. Elevators are available to reach the third floor. Entrance to the elevators is on the south side of the store.

Because OASIS is located in Macy’s, and the store doesn’t open until 10 a.m., the two-day conference will begin later in the a.m. than in the past.  Therefore, lunch will be about an hour later than usual (with several possible eating locations available in the mall), and the sessions will run later in the day than before. (The store is open until 9 p.m., but sessions will not run that late.)  More conference information is in this Congress of History website. Registration will begin in January 2016.

Dr. Sophronia Nichols was ‘In-Person’ in Alpine

What a delightful afternoon I spent meeting Dr. Sophronia Nichols “in-person” at a potluck meeting of the Alpine Historical Society (AHS) on October 18, in the historical Alpine Women’s Club building. The special event featured guest speaker Donna Sisson, great-great granddaughter of Dr. Sophronia Nichols, Alpine’s first woman doctor, who lived from 1835 to 1903.

I was joined there by Congress of History member Patricia Louis at this fascinating event. She and I enjoyed visiting with society members and AHS President Carol Morrison. Then, Carol went up to the lectern to welcome the room full of members and guests, and to introduce Donna’s extended family, who had arrived from around the country to see this performance for the first time. Finally, Carol called “Dr. Nichols” to come out, onto the stage.

As Donna walked out, dressed as Dr. Sophronia Nichols, her dramatic reenactment began. An excellent, amateur actress, Donna became her ancestor, as she talked to the audience completely in character as the good doctor. She was dressed in a period costume created just for her by seamstress Feather Tippets-Rossica of Grand Gestures Period Costumes in Tehachapi, CA, who also attended the performance. (See Donna in costume on the stage; photo by Carol Morrison.)

In a conversational, engaging style, “Dr. Nichols” told her own life story, including many historical facts-of-life from the 1800s. She was born Sophronia Athearn on November 17, 1835 in West Tisbury, Massachusetts, the fifth child of fifth-generation colonists from England. Her ancestors were prominent pioneers of Martha’s Vineyard as early as 1634.

Her childhood and adolescence followed the conventional pattern of the era. Although longing to be a doctor, she graduated as a schoolteacher, married Joel Nichols, and they started a family. The following years produced five children, of whom only two survived.

Her experience of the primitive conditions of childbirth, of that day, made her only more convinced that she wanted to be a doctor. In spite of the stern regulations at that time, regarding women’s entry into the man’s world of medicine, Sophronia pursued the career she craved. She managed to go to medical school in Boston Medical University, graduating in 1874 (the only woman in her class), at the age of 35. Her first medical practice was in Curry, Pennsylvania, where she stated (in a letter to her family that), as a wry fact of her existence, she had few patients.

Because women doctors were not generally accepted at that time, she could not make a living as a doctor on the east coast. However, medical doctors were scarce enough out west that her two brothers, already living in California, thought she might find better acceptance there than in the conventional east. So, in 1876 Dr. Nichols and her two children, Alice Jane and Wilfred, arrived in San Francisco. Once she realized what a rough existence she would have, being a doctor in the west, she sent her daughter and son to live with her sister, Carrie Foss, in Alpine, CA.  Sophronia held Homeopathic Medical License #26 in the State of California (1876) and worked in Washington Territory; Albany, Oregon; and in the California communities of Santa Cruz, Petaluma, Riverside, Otay, and San Diego, finally settling in Alpine in 1888 to be near her son, daughter, and her sister, Caroline Foss.

From its research, the Alpine Historical Society believes that George Stephenson was first baby that she delivered in Alpine, in 1895. On January 9, 1897, she delivered Dorothy Walker, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Walker, founders of “The Willows” a well-known Alpine resort of the early days. In 1903 Dr. Nichols died at the age of 64, as the result of a stroke, and is buried in the Alpine Cemetery.

Donna presented her ancestor as accurately as possible (telling of her problems and successes), and truly “brought her to life” on the stage. Donna has the spirit and physical characteristics of Dr. Nichols, and soon the audience forgot they were watching a reenactment.

While talking, she walked around the stage, using as props a small table, her black doctor’s bag, a cup of tea, and a vintage chair. At various times throughout her talk she changed how she looked; first she removed a white apron and sleeve covers, later put on a jacket, then put on her hat.

While on the stage, “Dr. Nichols” occasionally read from copies of actual letters that had been written either to her, or from her. The research for this performance took place primarily in Alpine, with the assistance of the AHS, especially AHS President Carol Morrison. (See “Dr. Nichols” reading a letter, on-stage; photo courtesy of Carol Morrison.)

“Dr. Nichols” had the majority of the audience alternately in tears and laughter. Most seemed impressed by what Sophronia had been able to accomplish during her life, in spite of the many set-backs she faced. After more than an hour as the only person on the stage, Donna concluded her enthralling performance to a well-deserved, standing ovation!

Following this presentation, Patricia and I drove over to the AHS museum complex, the John DeWitt Historic Museum and Library, at 2116 Tavern Rd., where we continued to visit with Donna and her extended family, who joined her there for a small reception given by the AHS. They were all justifiably proud of her and the hard work she had done to accomplish this feat of reenactment. Just the memorization, alone, was amazing!

One of the two buildings on the AHS campus is Dr. Nichols’ actual home and medical office, which has been preserved in its original location, and restored. It was so wonderful to see Donna standing on the front porch there, wearing a replica of one of the doctor’s hats, fashioned after one seen in a period photo of Sophronia. (See the photo of Donna on the front porch, courtesy of Patricia Louis. The sign above Donna is Dr. Sophronia Nichols’ original medical office sign.)

It’s unfortunate for us that Donna lives and works so far away, as a ranger in Grand Teton National Park, in Wyoming, as we’d like to have everyone in our neck of the woods have the opportunity to see her in this outstanding performance. Perhaps she can be persuaded to return another time, to grace us with the presence of the good doctor?

In addition to the Dr. Nicholas house, the AHS campus includes the historical, restored Beaty House, which currently includes an exhibit of vintage, wooden, large-format cameras.  For museum days and hours, call (619) 445-2544, or see the AHS website at: http://www.alpinehistory.org. . .

As we wind-down the clock on 2015, I’d like to thank all of you who continue to support the Congress of History with your memberships and especially those of you who regularly send me your society newsletters, and your press releases. Our newsletter, Adelante, would not be possible without all the news you send to me, so I really appreciate your assistance! The next edition of Adelante will be in January 2016.

Well, it’s good-bye for this year; hope to see you in 2016.

Helen Halmay, Editor

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