Mountain Mary: The Medicine Woman of the Oley Valley

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Log channel that carried water into Mountain Mary’s milk house. The outbuildings are part of her hill farm. Photo: BHC Research Library Collection

Nearly 200 years ago, this would have been Mountain Mary’s favorite time of year as she worked around her farm in the Oley Valley. The Oley area reminded her of the Rhine Valley, where she and her family emigrated from. They came here at about the time of the Revolution. Her farm was a hill farm of about 42 acres. Her farm consisted of a log home, an outdoor bake oven, a milk house, a lean-to for her cows, several large meadows and a small cemetery plot where her mother and two sisters were buried. She was very proud of her milk house, which was cooled by a stream of mountain water channeled into the building through hand-hewn logs. The stream began as a spring high on the hill and flowed through the building continuing downstream to irrigate a meadow.

Mountain Mary supported herself by making butter from her cow’s milk and by keeping bees for honey. She would then give the butter and honey to a neighbor, who would take it to market to sell in Philadelphia. She would often send along some food for the poor.

Mary was very religious and would read her German Bible; Piety, faith and charity were central to her life. In addition, Mountain Mary used many of the native herbs and plants which grew on the hillside for healing and poultices. She would collect and dry the herbs over the years. Then she used them to make lotions and salves. Her neighbors came regularly to her cabin for help or medical advice. She often prayed with them and shared her knowledge and teas, etc. She used peppermint and spearmint to make tea. Bergamot would come a little later in the spring. Dandelions even were used to make a spring tonic to pick up spirits. Berries made excellent sauces and juice.

Mountain Mary died on November 16, 1819 at age 73. More than 1,000 people attended her funeral, which was quite an honor. Some people call her Pennsylvania’s first “visiting nurse.” There are a lot of legends about Mountain Mary, including some that developed after her death. The strangest story is that she was engaged to a man named Theodore Benz, who fought and died with George Washington’s army in the Revolution. This has never been proven, but as they say, in every legend is a grain of

Hallie Vaughan is a Women’s History enthusiast, instructor and reinactor and longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center. As a guest blogger Hallie will focus on Women’s History in Berks County. 

#WomensHistoryMystery

Mystery Woman #6 Answer 

Rachel Carson

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The Mother of Psychiatric Nursing: Hildegard E. Peplau

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I have to admit, I never heard of Hilde Peplau until about ten years ago when I read about her in Irene Reed’s book, Berks County Women in History, Volume 2. Hildegard was one of the world’s leading nurses! Nursing is a profession I admire greatly because I know I could never do that job! I didn’t get squeamish when my kids got sick or needed stitches, but I just know I couldn’t do that job day after day! I guess that’s why they say, “Different strokes, for different folks!”

Hilde was born in Reading in 1909, the second daughter of Gustav and Ottylie Peplau. She had two sisters and three brothers. She was nine years old when she witnessed the flu pandemic of 1918.  When she observed how this event impacted families, she decided to become a nurse.

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In 1931 she graduated from Pottstown’s School of Nursing. She worked as a staff nurse in Pennsylvania and New York City and then became the school nurse at Bennington College in Vermont. While there, she earned her Bachelor’s degree in interpersonal psychology in 1943. Her lifelong work was focused on interpersonal theory for use in the nursing practice. During WWII she served in the Army nurse corps at the 312th Field Station Hospital in England. She worked side by side with many of the leaders in American and British psychiatry. After the war these leaders, mostly men, and Hilde, worked to restructure the mental health system in the US. After earning her Master’s Degree and Ph.D, she developed and taught the first classes for graduate psychiatric nursing students. She was a prolific writer and was well known for her programs, speeches and clinical training workshops.

Hilde advocated for nurses to treat psychiatric patients with therapeutic methods, not just custodial care which was how patients in mental hospitals were treated in that era. She conducted summer workshops during the 50s and 60s for nurses throughout the US. At these workshops, she taught interpersonal concepts as well as individual, family and group therapy. Her textbook from 1952 has been translated into nine languages. She tried to publish it in 1948, when it was finished, but publication was delayed four years, because it was thought to be too revolutionary for a nurse to publish a book without a doctor as co-author! When she passed away in 1999, she was known to many people as “The Nurse of the Century”. In 1997 she received the world of nursing’s most prestigious award, the Christiane Reimann Prize. This honor is only given once every four years for outstanding national and international contributions to nursing and health care. The American Academy of Nursing honored Hilde as a “Living Legend” in 1996 and in 1998 the American Nurses Association inducted her into the ANA Hall of Fame. Our Hildegard Peplau, from Reading, PA, is regarded as “the mother of psychiatric nursing”!

Hallie Vaughan is a Women’s History enthusiast, instructor and reinactor and longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center. As a guest blogger Hallie will focus on Women’s History in Berks County. 

#WomensHistoryMystery

Mystery Woman of the Week #4

I wrote the poem, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, which was later set to music, during the Civil War. President Lincoln is said to have wept upon hearing it sung. Who am I?

Mystery Woman Answer #3

Answer: Sandra Day O’connor