By Sarah Wibell
March is Women’s History Month, and the Morgan County Citizen is taking this opportunity to share the story of one of the remarkable women who live in our community. It was not that long ago that career choices for women often limited them to becoming teachers, nurses, or secretaries. Talk to Dr. Rose Ann Weaver, a longtime Madison resident and recently retired doctor, and she’ll tell you how opportunities for women have changed in her lifetime. As the very first female doctor to practice in Madison, she should know.
Born in Manning, South Carolina, “a little town like Madison used to be,” Weaver – then Rigby – grew up there in the 1940s with her sister and brother before moving to Columbia, South Carolina, when she was 12. “My great-uncle was a physician and practiced in Manning,” Weaver stated. “That was my first personal contact with someone in medicine.”
Through a new initiative at her high school, she was able to take college classes her senior year. Enrolling in the University of South Carolina, she was exempted from a full year of courses. Weaver said, “I went up to register and said I was pre-med without even knowing if that was what I really wanted to do. Then I was taking all of those courses and took one summer school class, and by my third year I was a senior.”
Weaver admitted that she was unsure if she wanted to pursue a medical degree and several more years of classes: “Then I saw the people getting accepted (to medical school), and I had done better than them in the same classes, so I thought, ‘Well, why not?’
“The person who interviewed me (for medical school) was a man doctor who said, ‘Wouldn’t you be satisfied being a secretary or something?’ And I thought, ‘I am just the same as you!’ But I told him, ‘No, I knew I would not.’”
Weaver added that the interviewer later told her, “‘We’ll let you in, but even if you finish, you’ll probably never practice; you’ll just end up getting married and having kids.’” Later marrying and having kids, Weaver laughed as she recalled attending reunions and discovering that many of her classmates had retired before she did. She proudly asserted, “I practiced for 50 years.”
Studying at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, Weaver was one of three women in a class of 80. She noted that while a fair portion of the original class did not make it through the program, “all three of us (women) finished, so that was pretty good.”
“The boys teased you and would make comments and carry on, but not in a bad way. Most of them were like my brothers,” Weaver said, but “there was discrimination” in different ways. Dormitories were available for the men but not the women who had to find their own housing. And during her residency at Emory University in Atlanta and rotations at The Emory Clinic, the Atlanta VA, and Grady Memorial Hospital, the female residents’ quarters were really faraway in separate buildings unlike the men’s.
While medical school and residency were challenging, Weaver commented, “When we did get a break it was fun. We did have a good time.”
Weaver moved into a “singles only” apartment complex in Atlanta where she met Russell Weaver, a young man originally from Austin, Texas. He worked for an electrical engineering company that had transferred him from Houston. “I was living with some girls from South Carolina,” Weaver shared. “A couple taught school, and one worked in a bank. Well, Russell and Frank Kelley had an apartment there. So, I was out by the pool one weekend I was off (work), and he was there. We met that summer, were engaged in September, and got married in December 1967 – I was 27.”
Most of Weaver’s friends had finished college and gotten married at 21 or 22. When Weaver had her first child, Anne, in 1969, she remembers someone saying, “You just made it.” Anne was followed by a son, Russell, and another daughter, Amy. Weaver and her husband began searching for locations to live further outside of Atlanta. Eventually discovering Madison in 1973, they thought “maybe it’s not too far” of a commute.
“He fell in love with Madison as much as I did…liking the history…which was really quite surprising since he always lived in cities before,” Weaver said. “We never regretted it because the children rode their bikes and had freedom they wouldn’t have had in Atlanta.”
In addition to working part-time as an Associate Professor of Medicine at Emory University, Weaver also worked one day a week in Dr. McGeary’s office and was the first female doctor in Madison. “The first morning I worked there, someone came in who usually saw Dr. McGeary. The secretary told him Dr. McGeary was in surgery, but there was another doctor who could see him shortly if he would take a seat. He did, and then other people came in. The secretary said, ‘Dr. McGeary’s in surgery, but we have another doctor, and she will be right with you in a little while.’ And that first man got up and said, ‘She!’ and left. All of that (gender bias) changed, and I ended up with more men than women as my patients.
“When we moved here, people would just pull up in our driveway and ask me to see their child or grandmama. The people coming to my back door really made me decide to open my practice here.” She did just that in 1976 with a focus on internal and geriatric medicine.
“One time,” Weaver recalled, “a patient came in and said she had a stomachache, and she came in with her mama and it seemed like a whole slew of people. So, my receptionist said, ‘Have a seat and we’ll take your name down,’ and after a while they kept coming up saying, ‘She’s really having a bad stomachache.’ So, we decided to go ahead and take her back because she was all bent over and was upsetting other patients in the waiting room. We bring her back, and I’m examining her, and I go to do a pelvic, and she is crowning in my office. I hadn’t delivered a baby since I was a medical student. So I put her legs together and got her out to the hospital, and the doctor who did the delivery called (to say) she had twins! Can you imagine doing that in my office?”
Although she did not work for Morgan Memorial Hospital, Weaver did assist in the emergency room if they were short-staffed. “The hospital was booming – babies were being delivered, and there was an active surgery wing. The hospital was so full a lot of times, we’d have to put people on cots in the hallway,” Weaver explained. “Sometimes you would need to be in three places at once. You’d just have to go out there and do the best you could.
“The good thing was that the nurses were really skilled like midwives. When I got out there, they were telling me what to do. One little baby was born and didn’t breathe. And I was thinking I’ve got to do a tracheotomy, and they said, ‘We don’t have a baby tracheotomy.’ And Miss Pritchett – she ran the hospital – she said to me, ‘Doctor, give me the baby and you deliver the placenta.’ So, I gave her the baby, and I was just sweating. But she got a nasogastric tube and put it down the baby’s nose – a little tiny tube – and breathed in that tube and got that baby breathing… (The nurses) knew what to do with what they had. I was coming from Atlanta and expected everything that they had there to be here.”
As time went on, medical technology became more advanced and the types of medical specialists increased. Patients who would formerly have remained at MMH for treatment began to be referred out to other locations.
Weaver’s medical career is filled with accomplishments. She has been a member of the Medical Association of Georgia, past president of the Oconee Medical Society, a lifetime member of the Southern Medical Association, and served on the medical staffs of Morgan Memorial Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital. She also served as Medical Director of the local chapter of the American Cancer Association and the American Heart Association, Medical Director of the Madison Health and Rehab Nursing Home, and Director of the Morgan County Health Department Board.
In addition, she found time to give back to the community and actively supported many of the local non-profits including the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center, the Historical Society and Landmarks. The accomplishment she may be most proud of is organizing and directing the community wellness program for many years.
“A lot of people ask me if it was hard being married and having children,” Weaver stated. “It seemed it all just worked. I had a full Monday-Friday maid, and she cooked…I always kept school hours (for the practice) unless there was an emergency. If I went to Atlanta, she’d stay (at the house) until I got back…most of the time, I was home when my kids got off the school bus.”
Weaver has witnessed many changes in the medical field and the types of job opportunities available to women. She was not only the first female doctor in town, but also the first female elder at Madison Presbyterian Church. “We (women) are equal (to men), but we’re not superior by a long shot. I hope it swings back to a middle road and everybody respects everybody…Everybody – I don’t care what – deserves to be respected as a fellow human being.”
Although family – including six grandchildren – and friends keep her retirement busy, she fondly said, “I really enjoyed my practice and loved my patients.”