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Dr. Emeline S. Aber
Dr. Emeline S. Aber
original a carte de visite

One of the characters in my family history is Dr. Emeline S. Aber, who is my ggg-grandaunt. She also went by the names Emma and Ama. I wish that I knew more about her. (If you have information to share, please contact me!)

What I do know is that Emeline Aber became a medical doctor and was one of the earlier women to enter the profession. The famous Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell graduated from Geneva Medical College in 1849 in a town not far from where Emma Aber grew up (about 50 miles). Emma Aber was trained more informally in the 1860s by mentoring with a local doctor, then received formal medical education in the 1880s. That said, medicine was in its early stages, and the remedies that Dr. Aber proposed (see the trade card below) are ones that doctors would not now advocate.

Emeline Aber was born on January 16, 1837 in Bath, Steuben County, New York. She was the twelfth child (of fourteen!) of Nathaniel L. and Anna (Wass) Aber. Anna Aber was nearly 40 years old at the time of Emma's birth.

When Emma was 13, her mother died. The 1850 census later that year shows Emma living with her older sister, Mary Ann, and sister's husband George G. Aber (yes, the surnames were the same). Due to the large number of children in the family, eight of Emeline's siblings were already married by 1850, many with children of their own.

I have looked in the 1860 census, but so far have been unable to identify Emma anywhere. She is not living with any of her siblings that I can see. I have likewise been unable to identify the Dr. Donelson family of Bath, NY with whom she is said to have studied medicine somewhere around this time. The Donelson family does not seem to be listed in the Gazetteer and business directory of Steuben County, N.Y. for 1868-9, nor can I identify them in the 1860 or 1870 censuses.

In 1870, Emma was living (age 31) with her sister Rachel (Aber) Plaisted's family in West Union, Steuben, New York. No occupation is listed. At this point, she had probably already been married to Henry Whaling, whom she divorced according to one source. They were married in Bath on June 17, 1862. Nowhere in her later life is he mentioned, and I'm unsure of the circumstances related to the divorce. Emma retained her maiden name, and her later friends in Michigan may not even have known about the earlier marriage.

Nathaniel & Anna Aber
Nathaniel & Anna Aber
Emma's parents; original on tin

In this same year, the University of Michigan became the first state medical school to admit women. While there is no evidence that Emma Aber attended the University of Michigan, this may have been among the reasons that she opted to remove to the state at about this time. Certainly, Michigan seems to have been a friendly location for female doctors. At any rate, Emma's obituary indicates that she moved to Hillsdale County, Michigan in 1871, first living with her sister, Amanda Aber Richardson (married to Thomas Jefferson Richardson), then moving to Reading, and later to Cambria.

In 1880, Emma Aber is listed in the census in Cambria, Hillsdale County, Michigan. She is listed as a doctor, age 40. The head of household is Phebe Nail (or Wail?), age 43, and a milliner. Twenty-one year-old Alice Calvin also lived in the household, and likewise worked as a milliner. Emma's sister, Amanda Aber Richardson, lived nearby.

On October 7, 1880, the Hillsdale Herald (local college newspaper) listed as an attendee at a Temperance Meeting in Hillsdale on Sept 25, 1880: "Miss Dr. Aber". Her sister, Rachel, was very active in the Women's Christian Temperance Union in western New York, and it seems that Emma may have had similar leanings. In fact, the temperance movement was very active in this era, so it would not have been uncommon for her to be involved.

The trade card shown below is probably from the early 1880s, in this time period when Emeline Aber and Cora Colburn were joint owners in a store in Cambria Mills, Michigan. It was saved in a collection of similar trade cards probably preserved by Rose Plaisted Scott, Emma's niece. Trade cards were popular advertising gimmicks in the 1880s and 1890s. They were also collected by many people in scrapbooks. This was probably a stock card which allowed any advertiser to print on the back. More information regarding trade cards can be found online here.

Trade Card from Aber & Colburn
Trade Card from Aber & Colburn

The store, Aber and Colburn, as noted on the card, sold "Drugs, paints, books, etc." It also served as a sales location for a dubious medication called, "Improved Hop Bitters." Like many patent medications of the era, Improved Hop Bitters was "guaranteed to cure or help" virtually every ailment: "dyspepsia, liver complaint, indigestion, biliousness, dizziness, numbness, general debility, sick headache, fever and ague, and all diseases of the kidneys and urinary organs."

In all likelihood, Dr. Aber was the primary manufacturer of the Improved Hop Bitters sold from the store. Doctors (and others) were able to make some additional money through the sale of these dubious concoctions. At that time, medicine was not terribly scientific, so doctors and others may have believed in the efficacy of their treatments, though many were clearly ineffective. Contents of the drugs often included alcohol, opium, or other substances.

Emma was married to Warren Atwood in Cambria, Hillsdale, Michigan in 1885. According to the marriage certificate, Emma S. Whaley (nee Aber) was 43 years old and had been born in Cuyahoga, New York. Warren Atwood was living in Woodbridge, Michigan, and in the funeral business. He was aged 55 and had been born in Wayne County, New York to John and Elizabeth (Rice) Atwood. The Reverend Aaron B. Lilly officiated and Wilson E. Brown and Bella Kiss, both of Cambridge, were witnesses.

From other records, I know Warren had been married once prior to this marriage to a woman named Thankful Sherman, with whom he is listed for the census years from 1850 to 1880. In each of these records, he is listed as a farmer. A daughter, Elizabeth J. (Libbie) was born to Warren and Thankful about 1859 in New York, but was out of the house by 1880. No other children are listed with the family in census records. Sometime after 1860, Warren moved his small family from Marion, New York to Woodbridge, Michigan. He served in the Civil War from Frontier, Michigan. Thankful apparently died in November of 1884.

A newspaper clipping (unsure where the original was published) and a wedding invitation for Warren and Emma's marriage were saved by Rose Plaisted Scott, Emma's niece The clipping says the following:

"Wedding Bells at Cambria [Michigan]

Married Thursday evening, Nov. 26th, at the residence of Mr. Harry Colburn, Dr. Emma S. Aber, of Cambria, and Warren Atwood, of Frontier, the Rev. Lilley officiating.

The wedding march was played by Mrs. Rev. W.Denman, of Jonesville, the ceremony performed in the presence of over seventy guests, and never were those brief but solemn words spoken in a more beautiful and impressive manner.

The contracting parties are well known in this vicinity. Dr. Aber by her twelve years successful practice and Mr. Atwood by the integrity and honor with which he has filled the various places of trust and honor assigned him by his townsmen. After receiving the congratulations of their friends, supper was served and at the close of the evening's festivities, Mr. and Mrs. Atwood left for Frontier, the home of the groom, where a reception was held on Friday by Rev. Mr. and Mrs. Clay, daughter and son-in-law of the groom. The presents received consisted of gold-lined silver tea set, silver water pitcher, silver cake basket, silver pie knife, silver desert spoon, set silver knives, cheese plate, celery dish, berry dish, Bible, Brussels rug, and student's chair.

A GUEST"

On April 8, 1886, the Hillsdale Herald annouced that:

"C. E. Root & Co. have sold the Variety Store to Mr. and Mrs. W. Atwood and Miss Carrie S. Colburn, '70. It is a good location for business. We wish the new firm success." [page 3]

In October of 1886, the Hillsdale Herald reported another change in hands to the Variety Store:

"Miss Cora Colburn has sold her interest in the Variety Store to Mr. Atwood and will spend the winter with her parents who are quite feeble." [Oct 28, 1886, page 3]

Emma's departure to formally study medicine at Toledo Medical College in Toledo, Ohio was announced in the Hillsdale Herald on December 9, 1886:

"Mrs. Warren Atwood is attending medical lectures in Toledo, O." [page 3]

On January 13, 1887 a similar announcement was run, this time giving a date of return:

"Mrs. Warren Atwood is at Toledo, Ohio attending medical lectures. She will not return until March." [page 3]

Edward & Rachel (Aber) Plaisted
Rachel & Edward Plaisted
Emma's sister & brother-in-law, with whom she lived in 1870

Emma did return in March 1887, bringing with her a friend to visit. Although there were several visitors to the Atwood's home that are mentioned in the Hillsdale Herald, this one from 1887 deserves special mention, since Celia Dupont features so strongly in Emma's later obituary, being there described as "her faithful friend and nurse until the close of life" [see obit below]. On March 24, 1887, the Herald reported:

"Miss Dupont, of Toledo, O., is spending some time with Dr. Atwood. We hope she may find Hillsdale a pleasant place to stay." [page 3]

Later that month, the Hillsdale Herald also reported that:

"Mr. Warren Atwood, of the Variety Store, is rapidly building up a good trade with the students and College Hill people." [March 31, 1887, page 3]

From Emma's obituary, it appears that she and Carrie/Cora Colburn may have been the one to have opened and primarily operated the store, but this remains unclear. Certainly this excerpt shows that after she was married, her husband was involved with the store and probably ran it in her absence to Toledo. Throughout 1887, the Variety Store ran advertisements in the Hillsdale Herald under Warren Atwood's name. After 1887, however, the Atwood name disappears from the Hillsdale Herald, so the store must have been sold about this time.

In the 1888 Portrait and biographical album of Hillsdale County, Mich. [published in Chicago by Chapman Bros], "Ama Aber" is referred to:

"The present wife of our subject [Warren Atwood], to whom he was married Nov. 26, 1885, was formerly Miss Ama Aber, who was born in 1841 in New York State, was graduated from Ft. Wayne College of Medicine, and has been a practicing physician for a period of fifteen years." [page 330]

The two-page biography of Warren Atwood in this volume also notes that he is "engaged in merchandising in the village of Frontier, has a full stock of hardware, groceries, harness, etc., and has been doing a thriving business for some years...". It seems likely that the Hillsdale Variety Store was thus an extension of the business he had been engaged in previously.

In the December 25, 1890 edition of the Hillsdale Herald, the following death notice ran for Emma Aber on page 2:

"Mrs. Warren Atwood, formerly of College Hill, died at her home, Frontier, Mich., Thursday of last week. She made many acquaintances during the years that her husband was engaged in business here, and was highly esteemed."

Emma Aber's obituary from Center Cambria, Michigan was excerpted in The Aber Quarterly, Vol II, No 4 in the Autumn of 1972 (published by Hugh Law on behalf of the Aber Family Association and now available through the LDS Family History Library). It reads as follows:

"Dr. Emma S. Atwood was born in Bath, Steuben Co. NY Jan 6, [1837] and died at Frontier [Michigan], Dec. 16 1890."

" Dr. Aber, as she was known for more than 20 years in Reading and Cambria and vicinity, first studied medicine at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Donelson of Bath NY and at the completion of her studies came to Michigan in the autumn of 1871. After stopping for a time at the home of her sister, Mrs. T.J. Richardson [Amanda Aber], she began the practice of medicine in Reading as a regular practitioner of the altopathic [sic: allopathic] school, and later removed to Cambria, where she began, with but feeble help and small means, but with dauntless courage, a work too well known to need comment. Quick to think and instant in an action, she fought disease successfully in many instances, where others would have despaired. Her work was seen at its best among the suffering of her own sex who found in her a sympathetic friend as well as a skilled physician, oftentimes without financial consideration. I could speak of weary miles through summers heat and winters cold, unselfish efforts for others, the record is already written in the hearts of those who knew her best, and my pen is too feeble to depict the possibilities of a life like hers.

"Strong in intellect, the best works of the best authors were her daily delight, and every local society for the help or mental elevation of others found in her a ready support. Nov 26th, 1885, she was united in marriage to Warren Atwood of Frontier, and for a time resided in Cambria, where she and Mrs. Cora Colburn had established a flourishing trade in drugs and groceries. Later on the Variety store of Hillsdale College was rented and for more than a year Hillsdale was her home. Later on anxious to resume her practice, she attended the Toledo Medical College, graduating with honors, and here made the acquaintance of Miss Celia Dupont of Detroit, who was her faithful friend and nurse until the close of life. In the autumn of 1887 she began a course of medicine at the Fort Wayne College of Medicine, graduating March 6th, 1888. While there she embraced Christ and united with the Congregational church of that place, as also did Miss Dupont, who also graduated at the head of her class at the College of Medicine, March 5th, 1889; the remaining portion of life on this earth was one of suffering, but her trust in God was unfaltering and she often expressed her readiness for the change from sorrow and suffering to the rest that remaineth, and in the last weeks of life pleaded with friends to prepare for eternity.

"Surrounded by flowers, frail emblems of our life on earth, we laid her to rest, assured that for her 'The Rock in a weary land was shelter' and that the Savior in whom she trusted will give to his children joy unspeakable and full of glory. The Cambria choir, at her request came as old friends and acquaintances to share in the rites of burial, are sincerely thanked for their services, as are all whose love brought forth deeds of thoughtfulness for one whose earthly life was filled with helpful deeds for suffering humanity"

After Emma's death, Warren Atwood remarried. He was married to Nancy Davis on Dec 23, 1894 in Frontier, Michigan. He lists his occupation as farmer. He died sometime after 1910, probably in Hillsdale County, Michigan.


I am indebted to the Hillsdale Herald for digitizing their archives and placing a free, searchable index of images online. Without this information, I would not have as complete a picture of Dr. Emeline Aber's life as I now do.

I also consulted various census records and local histories to compile information on Dr. Aber's life.

Additional sources included: