Danforth, Grace (1849–1895)

By: Mary M. Standifer

Type: Biography

Published: September 1, 1995

Updated: April 21, 2021

Grace Danforth, physician and suffragist, was born on February 21, 1849, in Southport, Kenosha County, Wisconsin, the daughter of David and Frances Howell (Coleman) Danforth. Her father followed several occupations, including that of music teacher, and the family moved often when Grace was a child. They lived in Eufaula, Barbour County, Alabama, in 1850; in Marshall, Texas, in 1853; in Clarksville, Texas, in the middle to late 1850s; in Boston, Texas, in 1858; and in Gilmer, Texas, in 1861. Grace taught school and music in various communities in Northeast Texas, including Daingerfield, Whitewright, Campbell, and Black Jack Grove (later Cumby). A newspaper account from the late 1870s or early 1880s noted that she had just finished a four-month stint of teaching music in Campbell and Black Jack Grove simultaneously, while commuting by train. The writer commented that Danforth was a "lady of remarkable energy, good education and extraordinary business qualities" and predicted that "the community that secures her services [after her attendance at a summer normal school in Sulphur Springs] will capture a prize indeed." Danforth later wrote that she decided to enter the medical field after finding "the confinement and nervous wear and tear of the schoolroom" injurious to her health. She said that she had considered bookkeeping and pharmacy as alternative occupations but rejected them in favor of medicine. She attended the Woman's Medical College of Chicago, where her training included work at Cook County Hospital and the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary. After graduating in 1886, she did her internship at the Chicago Hospital for Women and Children. During this time in Chicago, she said, she became a proponent of woman suffrage.

She began private practice in Dallas early in 1888 and was soon afterward admitted to membership in the Dallas County Medical Association. Upon being asked by the group "why a woman, and especially a southern woman, is desirous of a professional career," she responded that women who were "reaching out for a wider field of usefulness and freedom" were "simply obeying laws that underlie the march of civilization." She praised the medical profession as the most important force "contributing to the aid of woman on practical, commonsense grounds" because of the privileged view that doctors had of "domestic history." While in Dallas Danforth also joined the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, perhaps partly in hopes that the affiliation would help her practice. By July 1889, however, she had moved to Granger, where her brother Charles was also a physician. With the support of John Summerfield Griffith, she was appointed by Dr. David Richard Wallace as second assistant physician at the North Texas Hospital for the Insane (later Terrell State Hospital) on June 13, 1890. She served as a gynecologist and was the first woman doctor on the hospital staff. She apparently worked at the Terrell asylum until the following year, when a new superintendent brought in different personnel. By May of 1892 Danforth was living again in Granger. She returned to the Woman's Medical College of Chicago for postgraduate work in the winter of 1891–92 and again in 1893.

While endeavoring to establish a medical practice she attended meetings of the State Medical Association (see TEXAS MEDICAL ASSOCIATION) and wrote for professional journals. From 1888 through the early 1890s she contributed frequently to the Texas Courier-Record of Medicine and also published an article in the Texas Sanitarian. Her letters and articles included advice on the care of newborn infants and mothers in delivery, instruction on converting apothecaries' measurements into metric notation, and a rejoinder to another contributor's article, in which she argued that insanity was attributable to organic causes. Several pieces stressed the importance of educating girls and women in physiology and related subjects, arguing that such knowledge would improve women's health and happiness, make them better wives and mothers, and bring them into alliance with regular medicine (as opposed to homeopathy, spiritual cures, and quack medicine), thus putting the profession itself on a more secure footing.

In an appeal dated April 8, 1893, Danforth and nine other women urged supporters of woman suffrage to meet in Dallas to form a state suffrage organization. The convention, held in May, established the Texas Equal Rights Association. Danforth's mother and both of her sisters also attended the meeting and became charter members. Together with Ebenezer LaFayette Dohoney, Danforth drafted an eight-point plan of action that was adopted by the convention. The seventh point concerned "hygiene and dress improvement," a topic of intense interest to Danforth, who became head of a TERA department on "dress reform." During the next several years she was involved in suffrage work. In July 1893 she spoke at a meeting in Taylor that organized a local suffrage society. In the fall she was among those calling for a meeting in Granger to organize a similar group. When the Granger suffrage society was formed on November 4, she was elected vice president. In addition to speaking at suffrage meetings in Taylor and Granger, she sent letters to newspapers in the area to keep them abreast of suffrage activities and promote the cause. The Washington (D.C.) Woman's Tribune, a suffrage paper, published one of her articles, but the Southern Mercury, official journal of the Farmers' Alliance in Texas, declined it, saying that the text was too long and "too hot" to print. Later the Southern Mercury solicited succinct statements from her expressing the suffragists' positions on the "leading reform questions of monopoly, money, land and transportation." Danforth died the following month, however, and no response seems to have been published.

She upset some by criticizing the churches for their subordination of women. She viewed the suffrage effort as part of a general movement away from a society of force and competition toward one of justice and cooperation. At the same time, she appealed to the personal and regional interests of her audience. Stating that women would generally vote the interest of their region, she held forth the prospect of a block of women's votes reinforcing the "agricultural and mining interests of the west" against the "money power" of the East. In a letter addressed to the women of Granger, she linked the importance of the vote to their concern for the quality and administration of the public schools.

At the second annual meeting of the Texas Equal Rights Association in June 1894, Danforth was elected fourth vice president. When the discussion turned to the question of inviting Susan B. Anthony and Annie Shaw to lecture and organize in Texas, Danforth sided with those in favor. Opposition to the proposal included the president of TERA, Rebecca Henry Hayes. The issue of inviting Anthony was still a divisive one when the TERA executive committee met in September. Members favoring the proposal demanded that Hayes resign. When she refused, Danforth announced her own resignation as vice president in response. In November, however, Danforth was present at another meeting of the executive committee. With Hayes absent, committee members declared the office of president vacant and proceeded to invite Anthony to Texas, proposing lectures in thirteen towns. At the same meeting, Danforth was elected superintendent of press work.

She died in Granger on February 21, 1895, after having taken medicine for one of the severe headaches to which she was subject. According to one account, she had been "just emerging from a critical period of life," during which the state of her health had prevented her from doing much in her profession. She had, however, made arrangements to begin practice in Austin in a few weeks' time. Her survivors included her mother, two sisters, one brother, and a brother-in-law, Hamilton Biscoe Hillyer. She was buried in the Granger cemetery.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY: Elizabeth Brooks, Prominent Women of Texas (Akron, Ohio: Werner, 1896). Clara Stearns Scarbrough, Land of Good Water: A Williamson County History (Georgetown, Texas: Williamson County Sun Publishers, 1973). A. Elizabeth Taylor, Citizens at Last: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas (Austin: Temple, 1987). Texas Courier-Record of Medicine, March, July 1888, September 1891, February 1895. Texas Equal Suffrage Association Scrapbook, Austin History Center. Texas Medical Journal, March 1895.

  • Health and Medicine
  • Physicians and Surgeons
  • General Practitioners
  • Women
  • Suffragists and Antisuffragists
Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • Central Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Mary M. Standifer, “Danforth, Grace,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 02, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/danforth-grace.

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September 1, 1995
April 21, 2021

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