Colorado's Healthcare Heritage

A Chronology of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Alida C. Avery, MD (1833–1908)

Alida Cornelia Avery was born in Shelburne, NY on June 11, 1833, to Deacon William Avery and Hannah Dixon Avery. She was one of eight siblings including three girls. William and Hannah Avery were abolitionist leaders.

Alida started teaching at local schools at sixteen, and eight years later in the spring of 1857 she began her study of medicine. At first she studied privately with Drs. Silas O. and Rachel B. Gleason of Elmira, New York, and then in the fall of 1858 she began her studies at the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia—which in 1867 became the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania. Alida Avery studied in Philadelphia for a year, and then moved on to the New England Medical College in Boston, from which she received her medical degree.

During 1859, Alida Avery did supervised clinical and general practice at the New York Infirmary for Women and Children for a year. She had intended to return to school in Philadelphia after that, but classes weren't being offered at that point because most of the students had already volunteered to serve as Union Army nurses in the war that by then was considered to be inevitable.

Background—The New England Female Medical College

In 1848, Dr. Samuel Gregory and his colleague Dr. Israel Tilsdale Talbot founded the Boston Female Medical College, the first medical school for women, to prepare the "surplus female population" for a "useful, honorable and remunerative occupation as midwives." Dr. Gregory suggested that trained women "could afford to give their services at a much cheaper rate than men, five dollars instead of fifteen dollars."

Dr. Gregory—who disapproved of male physicians being present at childbirth—circulated a pamphlet entitled "Man-midwifery Exposed and Corrected; or the Employment of men to attend women in child-birth shown to be a modern Innovation, Unnecessary, Unnatural and Injurious to the physical Welfare of the Community, and Pernicious in its influence on Professional and Public Morality." [1]

In 1850, two years after it opened, the Boston Female Medical College initiated a full medical curriculum—despite the loud objections of the medical establishment in Boston—and the school's name was changed to the New England Female Medical College. Some of its graduates moved to Colorado—including Dr. Alida Avery, who arrived in Denver in 1874.

In 1873, the New England Female Medical College merged with the Boston University School of Medicine.

Dr. Avery at Vassar College (1865–1874)

Alida Avery in 1873 In 1862, Alida Avery received her MD from the New England Female Medical College in Boston, and first went into private practice in Brooklyn, New York, and Cleveland, Ohio.

In 1865, Dr. Avery accepted a position as professor of physiology and hygiene and resident physician at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where she remained for almost nine years until she moved to Denver. [2]

When students are ill they are placed under [Dr. Avery's] professional care, unless previous arrangements, approved by the President, have been made to secure the attendance of other physicians. When other physicians are engaged, their visits must be made knowledge and they must be in communication with the resident physician in regard to the treatment of the patient in order that she may discharge her duty as health officer of the institution. In the infirmary, complete arrangements are made for the comfort of the sick and a competent nurse is in constant attendance. The infirmary, a consultation office and full-time medical staff may qualify Vassar as the "first" true health service for women. [2]
She also served as secretary of the Vassar faculty from 1866 until 1874. Her obituary in The Shelburne News for October 3, 1908, said that no student died during her tenure at Vassar.

Dr. Alida Avery in Denver (1874–1887)

Alida C. Avery, M.D., resigned from the Vassar faculty in February 1874 and moved to Denver in April, where she established a private practice and also became Colorado's superintendent of hygiene. Her annual salary was said to be $10,000. Dr. Avery may have been the first woman with an M.D. to practice medicine in Colorado. She was an active member of the Unitarian Church. In July 1878, Dr. Avery hosted an eclipse-watching expedition of Maria Mitchell, Vassar's professor of astronomy, and five of her students.

The Territorial Woman Suffrage Society (1876)

The Territorial Woman Suffrage Society was established during a meeting in Denver January 10–11, 1876. Dr. Alida Avery of Denver, was elected president, and there was a long list of male and female vice presidents from around the state.

In February 1876, the Woman Suffrage Society made its case to the constitutional convention that was meeting in Denver, but a motion to include equal suffrage in the new state constitution lost by a vote of 24 to 8. The convention did pass a resolution instructing Colorado's first general assembly to send the matter to the voters.

Following Colorado's admission to the Union in August 1876, the organization became the Colorado Woman Suffrage Society. During its annual convention in February 1877, Dr. Avery was re-elected president.

Medical Societies in Colorado

The Colorado State Medical Society had its seventh annual meeting—its first meeting as a state rather than a territorial society—in Denver on June 12 and 13, 1877. Thomas Horn, MD, of Colorado Springs was elected president for 1877-1878.

Dr. William H. Williams of Denver, the outgoing president, told the Society that it was time to discuss opening medical schools to women. But motions to study the matter of women physicians and inviting them to attend meetings of the Colorado State Medical Society led nowhere. The minutes of that meeting reported that the state society rejected "Miss Avery, M.D." for membership because she was not a member of a county medical society—the same argument that was used to shun Dr. Justina Ford about 25 years later.

Alida Avery The Denver Medical Association, which had been established in 1871, finally admitted its first women members in 1881—Dr. Alida Avery, Dr. Mary Helen Barker Bates, and Dr. Edith Root.

Dr. Avery was active in the women's suffrage movement and the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and her involvement in those movements increased after she retired and moved to San Jose, California, in 1887. In 1901 she moved to San Francisco, but returned to San Jose after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

Dr. Alida C. Avery died at her home in San Jose on September 22, 1908, and was buried in Cold Springs Cemetery, Lockport, New York.


[1] See Hilary Sargent: "When Boston first admitted women to medical school," Boston Globe (November 5, 2015)

[2] The information in this profile is based in part on "Alida Avery," Vassar Encyclopedia

[3] Quoted by J.E. Raycroft: "History and Development of Student Health Programs in College and Universities" in Proceedings of the 21st Annual Meeting of the American School Health Association, Ann Arbor. 1940, pp. 37–43.


Alida C. Avery, MD: "Vassar College" (pp. 346–361) in Anna Callender Brackett (ed.): The Education of American Girls. Considered in a Series of Essays. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, Fourth Avenue and Twenty-Third Street, 1874. (free Google eBook).

Article on Alida Avery in The Vassar Miscellany, Volume 38 (1908), page 188

"Calisthenium and Riding Academy (Avery Hall)" in Vassar Encyclopedia

Letter from Alida C. Avery (November 4, 1873) in Julia Ward Howe (ed.): Sex and Education: A Reply to Dr. E.H. Clarke's "Sex in Education," pages 191–195. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1874.

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