International Women’s Day 2017 is here! First celebrated in 1909 the day has taken on several incarnations over the years, today advocating the need for greater gender equality and inclusivity. Every year has a theme, this year’s being #beboldforchange.
Here at The Vintage Notebook I like to use the day to spotlight an organisation or business which improves women’s lives in some way. A few examples of previous years can be found here and here. This year I was inspired by a photograph from the now famous series ‘Country Doctor’ by Eugene Smith, first published in Life magazine in 1948. It focused on the work of Dr Ceriani, a rural practitioner from Colorado, whose patients numbered 2000 and who single-handedly served an area of 400 square-miles.
Smith’s photographs are full of humanity. Dr. Ceriani’s hound dog expressions of concern are compelling in the extreme, as are the myriad emotional states of his patients. I would urge you to take a few moments out to look through the archive. Towards the end of the series are several photographs which failed to make the cut to publication. The picture below is one and remains my favourite.
The caption merely reads ‘Dr Ceriani with a patient’. I know nothing of this woman beyond what is evident superficially; she appears to be in her seventies or even eighties. She is thin and her hands look like they have worked hard for many years. She seems to be telling the doctor her ailment, perhaps a back or chest pain judging by her gesture. Her face is full of character, with a beaky nose, drawn cheeks and slightly overhanging jaw, perhaps symptomatic of a few missing teeth. She has the physicality of a woman who has lived a hard and long life on the inclement, treeless flats of Kremmling Colorado. In addition to this however she is wearing a smart black dress with white lace colour. A jaunty and pristine little topper hat with bunches of berries on the front, sits atop white hair, neatly brushed and pinned up. I find the fact that this woman travelled many miles in her little fancy hat to see the doctor heartbreakingly sweet. She doesn’t strike me as the sort of woman to bother an incredibly overworked general practitioner unless there was something genuinely wrong with her and I hope that as she made her way home on her little sinewy legs, perhaps holding her hat against the wind, she had received some relief from Dr Ceriani.
I am always intrigued and drawn to the unknown realities of the women forgotten to history. This woman, who at a rough estimate would have been born in 1878, lived through a fascinating period of American history, not to mention two World Wars. Her thoughts, her experiences, heck, even her illness is unknown to us. She is merely known to the historical record as ‘a patient’.
This year, in part to celebrate the work of Dr Ceriani and the life of his unknown patient, and partly because this year it feels like they need our help more than ever, I’m donating to Planned Parenthood. I feel beyond fortunate to live in a county with a National Health Service, which has helped my sisters to have babies and me not to. These are our choices. They are valid. They should be supported, protected and defended. Because like Dr Ceriani, walking many miles a day to his patients, there should be ‘Care, no matter what’.