Day 293: Dr. Alfreda Withington

Thursday October 20, 2011

She was a doctor in Pittsfield before it was fashionable for women to dream about such professions.

But when Dr. Alfreda Withington penned her autobiography "Mine Eyes Have Seen," she didn’t use that venue to explode on a pulpit and proclaim the medical arena as something more than a man’s world. Instead, the Pennsylvania native used her words to make clear the fact that if she indeed chose to forge a successful career in medicine, she also spent those productive years being a good woman and a good friend.

In her mind, there was no point to make.

Withington died at Pittsfield General Hospital 50 years ago this month at the age of 91.

A skilled doctor who studied overseas, she chose the Berkshires to start her practice because of the area’s healthy lifestyle. That she passed on at age 91 said a lot about her medical instincts and instincts overall. The House of Mercy pretty much became her primary gig. She was both the attending physician and head nurse there for 25 years, and by all accounts did a stellar job. At times, when funds shriveled, she found herself with no cry of dissent to be both head cook and chief bottle washer.

Not that Withington had to impress anyone, but she served for three years in the French army during World War I and was decorated by that country for her efforts during that campaign. Locally, the guys had no trouble with what she brought to the table, and she served for a time as president of the Berkshire Medical Society.

Withington’s book is probably a great read if you can find it. But don’t expect page after page of one woman’s crusade through a career in medicine during the early part of the 20th century and the political battleground upon which she fought.

It wasn’t a crusade at all, but a solid and wonderful career, of which she was proud. And in all likelihood, that’s pretty much how she framed it.


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