Monday, July 31, 2017

SRPS Role Model: Dr. Fannie Emanuel

I love sharing stories of women pursuing their dreams, as you probably already know. It's kinda my thing. It's particularly important, though, to celebrate older women who take up a new and challenging goal in mid-life or later. We have too few role models for this age group, so when I come across stories of amazing older women I am extra excited to share them with you.

After working nearly 20 years as treasurer for her husband's business, Fannie Emanuel (July 31, 1871 – March 31, 1934) went looking for more ways to help her community in Chicago. She began taking college courses in social sciences, and possibly thinking about studying medicine. In 1908 she decided to put into action the concepts she was learning in her classes, and established the Emanuel House, a settlement house with the mission "to inspire higher ideals of manhood and womanhood, to purify the social condition, and to encourage thrift and neighborhood pride, and good citizenship."

Settlement houses were private organizations focused on improving the communities they served by offering a wide range of services. Emanuel House addressed the disparity in educational opportunities for the children in the poor, predominately black neighborhood by offering kindergarten classes and a boys' and girls' club. Mothers could take classes in cooking, sewing, or domestic science, as well as attend regular mother's meetings. Emanuel House also hosted a free dental clinic and an employment bureau.

The part of Fanny Emanuel's story I find inspiring is she never stopped reaching for more. In 1911, at the age of 40, she made the decision to pursue a medical degree. When she enrolled in classes at the Chicago Hospital College of Medicine her two adult sons were also earning their own college degrees. Here was a woman who worked helping her husband's business while raising a family and staying active her community who, instead of resting in the comfort she'd earned, set out to do more.

While operating her private practice in Chicago, and between family trips to her summer cabin in northern Michigan, Dr. Emanuel continued her social work with important community organizations. She gave her time, energy, and business expertise to groups addressing the needs of the black community, such as the WYCA, Ida B. Wells Women's Club, and Delta Theta sorority, as well as serving on the Board of Directors for the Phyllis Wheatley Club (named after Phyllis Wheatley, a slave poet who lived from 1753 to 1784), an institution serving African American women, often providing lodging for younger women as well as retirement homes for older or disabled or sick women.

Dr. Fannie Emanuel was a woman who never stopped working to improve the lives of her neighbors, and when given an opportunity to follow her dreams she took it, and for that she's most certainly a Self-Rescuing Princess Society role model.

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